Damien Woody, Mark Sanchez practice

Updated: January 4, 2011, 8:25 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Right tackle Damien Woody, who missed the last three regular-season games after arthroscopic knee surgery, returned to practice Tuesday as the New York Jets began to prepare for the Indianapolis Colts in an AFC wild-card game Saturday night.

Quarterback Mark Sanchez, nursing a sore throwing shoulder, also participated in the early portion of practice. Team drills were closed to the media, but later coach Rex Ryan said that he improved as practice went on.

"He can zip it, there's no question," Ryan said. "I don't think that will be a problem at all. I never thought the injury was that major. He's doing just fine. When he's in the game, he can zip it like he always does."

Sanchez has been limited the last two weeks in practice, admitting as recently as Sunday that his shoulder still was "pretty sore." Sanchez played only eight snaps in the regular-season finale against the Buffalo Bills, not attempting a single pass.

Barring a setback, Woody is expected to play. He did some light work last Friday in practice but didn't participate in any positional or team drills. On Monday, Woody tweeted, "I'm baaack!" -- echoing what Ryan had indicated earlier in the day.

He practiced on a limited basis with the first team on Tuesday.

"It's a good feeling to get out there and get the reps that I really need in order to be effective on Saturday," Woody said.

Career backup Wayne Hunter did an admirable job in Woody's place, but Woody is a better run blocker than Hunter. But if Woody's surgically repaired knee affects his lateral movement, he could have problems with Colts defensive end Robert Mathis, a speed rusher who leads the team with 11 sacks.

The Jets are getting healthy at the right time. In fact, every player on the 53-man roster was on the field at the start of practice.

Safeties Eric Smith (concussion) and James Ihedigbo (sprained knee) were also on the field Tuesday. Smith likely will return to the starting lineup, replacing Dwight Lowery, a converted cornerback who started the last two games at safety.

Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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