The little guy ended up making a huge statement to coach Rex Ryan.
"I think he wants us to know that he wants to be on this football team," Ryan said.
The 5-foot-9, 195-pound Woodhead, on the bubble as the Jets considered their final cuts to reach the 53-man roster limit, rushed for 158 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries in New York's 38-27 win over Philadelphia on Thursday night. It was the second-highest preseason rushing total since 1992.
"It brought me back to my college days when I played full games," Woodhead said. "It was great to play as much as I did."
Woodhead hopes there are plenty more snaps ahead of him for the Jets.
"That's not my job to make the decision of who makes the team," he said. "My job is to go out there and play football. Hopefully, my performance is enough."
Woodhead is well aware he could be the victim of a numbers crunch. The Jets already have Thomas Jones, Leon Washington and rookie Shonn Greene as running backs, with Tony Richardson at fullback. If he decides to carry five backs, Ryan could opt to keep Jehuu Caulcrick as Richardson's backup.
"Well, we'll see," Ryan said. "It always comes down to numbers. I don't know what more he is supposed to do. We'll see. He had a heck of a game. He is tougher than nails. He works everyday."
The 24-year-old native of North Platte, Neb., was signed last year as an undrafted free agent after rushing for a then NCAA-record 7,962 yards in four seasons at Nebraska's Chadron State. He was a two-time Harlon Hill Trophy winner as the nation's top Division II player.
His height — he's closer to 5-7½ than 5-9 — was a major drawback for teams who didn't think he could compete at the NFL level.
"He's small, but he takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin'," linebacker Bart Scott said. "We tease him for that big helmet he has on, but obviously if he handles the ball like that, he's going to be a marked man."
Woodhead was impressive last summer and had an outside shot of making then-coach Eric Mangini's squad until he tore up his left knee in training camp. He stayed around the team while he rehabilitated the injury, trying to learn the offense. His No. 35 jersey — he changed to No. 22 this offseason — hangs in the equipment room in honor of being selected as the rookie who best exemplifies a professional.
Ryan didn't know much about Woodhead when he was hired as coach in January, but he certainly learned quickly. There were several voluntary practices in the offseason when he was the primary ballcarrier while Jones and Washington sat out in contract disputes.
"For a guy that overcame the injury like he had," Ryan said, "you certainly pull for him."
Through the Jets' first three preseason games, Woodhead was second to Washington in rushing with 68 yards on 27 carries. But that was only an average of 2.5 yards per rush, and he often looked overmatched running the ball inside.
That changed against the Eagles as Woodhead looked unstoppable against Philadelphia's backups and third-stringers, showing off one slippery move after another. His performance was overshadowed only by that of Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.
"Everybody in the locker room was ready to see him get a great opportunity to see what he has," wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said of Woodhead. "We see it everyday in practice, but we wanted to sit back, eat some popcorn and let him do his thing out there. I know a lot of people were excited about the Vick comeback, but we were looking forward to the Woodhead show."
On his first carry in the opening quarter, Woodhead was smothered for a 5-yard loss. It was hardly an indication of the night he'd have.
He took the ball on his third carry, ran up the middle, burst through the crowd and took off down the right sideline for a 55-yard touchdown.
"My first run, I got a little burst, but at the end of the run, it felt like I was carrying a heavy backpack," he said. "I wasn't feeling very fast after that play."
Woodhead had a 44-yard scamper in the third quarter and was pushed out of bounds just 4 yards short of the end zone. He also added a 3-yard touchdown run later in the game.
"He showed a lot of guts, especially to break a lot of long runs like that," Scott said. "For him to have two great runs like that means that he's in shape. He can be counted on. He's durable."
If Woodhead is one of the Jets' final cuts before the Saturday afternoon deadline, there's a good chance another team will snatch him up.
"I not worried about that," Woodhead said. "Either way, I'm going to keep working hard and try to become a better football player."