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Woods looking to keep starting spot

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There are so many other receivers to count, so many other guys who will bring the hype and the eyebrow-raising catches. These are the Bearcats featured on billboards, the ones that catch the imagination of UC fans.

 

Vidal Hazelton is the transfer from USC who will be eligible this year and who many expect to top this receiving corps. Armon Binns is the junior who had a breakout year last season, making amazing touchdown catches (11 scores last season) and using his 6-foot-4 frame to full advantage. Marcus Barnett is the senior hungering for his final chance, three years after the best freshman receiving performance in school history.

 

D.J. Woods is not in that group. Woods is a possession receiver who catches the screens and intakes the passes on the five-yard routes. He's not flashy. He was not a freshman All-American like Barnett, and he's not featured on billboards like Binns. Your imagination doesn't soar with the possibilities of his production like it might with Hazleton.

 

No, Woods is just a solid receiver, a guy who racks up receiving yards when you're not paying attention. But somehow, Woods, as a sophomore, kept his starting job last season and recorded 51 catches for 640 yards and four scores (all ranked No. 3 on the team). He likely will enter his junior year at the top of the depth chart as well.

 

It's because he's consistent. And coach Butch Jones likes - no, make that loves -consistent receivers. Woods showed up again during the spring game, catching six passes for 88 yards and a touchdown while throwing a 60-yard pass of his own that nearly netted another score.

 

"D.J. played exceptionally well," Jones said. "He came up to me after the game and said, 'Well coach, how did I play?' You know what? D.J. has been a model of consistency all spring. I thought he had a good performance, and I thought we blocked good on the perimeter for him as well."

 

What really impressed me about Woods last Saturday was his ability to earn yards after the catch. He caught a few bubble screens, and he made a couple short-route receptions. The fact he averaged 14.7 yards on mostly short balls is a testament to how valuable he could be for the Bearcats next year.

 

"He did a great job of advancing the ball," Jones said. "We talk about that all the time."

 

For Woods, it's a matter of practicing his craft every chance he gets.

 

"We do bubble (screens) every single day," Woods said. "We have a period when they do field goals, and we do nothing but bubbles. I feel comfortable in my technique and looking upfield trying to find receivers making blocks, because I'm making cuts off them."

 

The technique, Woods said, is an important part of his game that he's continued to improve.

 

"The thing I need to work on is blocking downfield. If I do that, my technique and my game will be up to par," he said. "I'm never satisfied. I'll come out to work every day, because somebody is going to try to take my spot."

 

That somebody is Barnett - who switched between offense and defense last year, in part because of the stranglehold Woods had on the position. Now that Barnett is focusing strictly on offense, he'll look to take Woods' spot for himself. Woods doesn't want that to happen.

 

"None of the spots are solid; it's only spring time," Woods said. "I just need to work on my technique and my willpower. I have Bones (Barnett) right now, and Bones was a first-team freshman All American. He's always in my shadow, always pushing me. But I'm always pushing him at the same time. I just need to have the mentality that it's my spot."

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