Woods works way up the ladder
MORGANTOWN - J.D. Woods caught a short pass from Geno Smith in a team drill earlier this week, made a quick fake to the outside and curled back inside and picked up close to 50 yards on the play.
It was the kind of play that, if wide predictions come true, will be fairly commonplace in West Virginia's offense this season. A team that at last glance was scoring 70 points against Clemson in the Orange Bowl is expected to routinely gobble up huge chunks of yardage.
But from J.D. Woods?
Sure, from Tavon Austin or Stedman Bailey. Perhaps even from freshman Jordan Thompson or any of a number of running backs.
But the day before Woods made that play in a Monday practice, he was stuck so low on the depth chart that the only way it seemed he might see a play like that was to buy a ticket. Now he was the source.
"Out of sight, out of mind,'' offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. "He was on the scout team. We couldn't waste reps on a guy that we didn't know whether he'd even be here.''
The problem with Woods was never a lack of ability. After all, by the end of last season he was right there in the mix. He started the regular-season finale against South Florida and then that Orange Bowl rout of Clemson.
But he was also in such a deep academic hole this summer that almost no one believed he would be around beyond the end of summer school classes, which stretched into the first week of football practice. He practiced, yes, but the coaches weren't willing to take him seriously. Thus his spot with the scout team.
But then on Monday he became a part of what coach Dana Holgorsen called "the first miracle of the season.'' None of the handful of Mountaineers who were thought to be in danger of academic demise turned out that way. All got their work done in the classroom, including Woods.
And when he did, it was with a sigh of relief and his old status back as one of the choices in West Virginia's fairly deep stable of receivers.
Not that Woods spends much time dwelling on it. In fact, he pretty much refuses to address his academic issues, instead preferring to look forward.
"You have to overcome adversity and understand that there's going to be struggles in college football,'' Woods said. "It's not always going to be how you want it. The only thing I can do is, when they call my name, go in and make plays.''
Thus raises the other issue that Woods has to address now, which is making plays consistently enough to earn a spot in the receiving rotation. He's never had trouble doing that on occasion, but he also has never been able to do it consistently. In three seasons, the 6-foot-1, 189-pound fifth-year senior has caught just 25 passes for 272 yards.
"If he continues playing like he's playing right now, he'll definitely make us better,'' Dawson said. "But that's up to him. He has to prove he can maintain that level. The last few days have been extremely positive, but he's got to continue doing that.''
For his part, Woods seems to know that. He talks repeatedly about making plays and doing so not just every once in a while, but all the time.
That's hard, of course, on a team with two legitimate national stars at wide receiver, Austin and Bailey, and another highly touted freshman, Thompson. Sure, West Virginia throws the football a lot, but there are still only so many catches to go around.
"The only thing I can control is what I do and how I work out there on the field,'' Woods said. "If I can just continue to make plays when they call my name, I can't do much else. I can run my route the best I can and catch the ball the best I can.''
There does seem to be a spot for Woods if he can grab it. After playing both inside receiver and outside receiver at times during his career, he's been moved to the outside more or less permanently in recent days because that's where the opportunity is. No one is playing ahead of Austin at one of the inside spots, and Thompson has the early stranglehold on the other. On the outside, Bailey is locked in at one spot, but the other is pretty much a revolving door with Ivan McCartney, Ryan Nehlen and others.
For Woods, though, inside or outside doesn't matter. He's just happy to be back in the mix.
"I just like playing in between those lines and making plays,'' Woods said.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.