Vidal Hazelton and Armon Binns got the most preseason attention, but it's actually junior slot man D.J. Woods who's leading Cincinnati in receiving. Woods is also tops in the Big East in catches (29), receiving yards (489) and touchdowns (four). He'll be a big key for the Bearcats when they travel to Louisville Friday night. I caught up with Woods earlier this week for a little Q&A time:
You guys played really well against Oklahoma and then continued that against Miami of Ohio. Do you feel like this team is starting to come together and turn things around?
D.J. Woods: Most definitely. I just feel like we have a different tempo to us. We hit a couple of bumps in the first couple of games and right now we're coming together as one. It feels good and we're working hard and practicing hard. So I think everything is clicking right now.
What helped you guys get going before that Oklahoma game?
Woods: Actually, to be honest, losing. Just not doing what we do usually, you know, fast pace, going up and down the field and scoring. We never had so many three-and outs-before. We all had a team meeting and talked about what we need to do. A couple of leaders stepped up and called everybody out and made sure we did what we needed to do. So we had to step up and do our job.
Is this now the offense you expected to see this year?
Woods: We can play a lot more together still. We're not satisfied. We're still installing. There are still little technique things we need to get down. Right now, what we're doing is average, but we can expect a lot more of ourselves.
You've become a big-time playmaker this year. What has been the key to your development?
Woods: Just me playing the slot, I think coach [Butch] Jones focuses on that spot a little more so I've kind of taken over that role here. This summer, coaches were always talking about making the big play every play, and I'd tell them, "If you need somebody, I'll be there." It feels good to have a big role, but at the same time I have a lot of responsibility. I love that having that responsibility.
Did you feel you needed to step things up when Vidal got hurt in the first game?
Woods: Most definitely. Me and Vidal, we'd compete every day in the littlest things, whether it was catching the ball or who had the most TDs in practice. Since he got hurt, I've had to step up my leadership. I think I'm doing that right now. I've just got to get rid of the mental errors.
You're averaging nearly 17 yards per catch, which is unusually high for an inside receiver. How have you been able to do that?
Woods: I just think I'm trying to make plays fast. The offense is moving me around a lot. We have a drill where you catch the ball and you have to get up the field no matter where you're at. I'm looking to do that and make a couple of people miss, and I feel like I'm doing that. I'm kind of just running for my life right now.
After your two fumbles against Oklahoma, you were carrying a football around practice. Are you still doing that?
Woods: I'm just doing silly things, like holding a football when I'm at my apartment, or if I'm going to class carrying one with me or talking to myself to make sure I tuck it in and stuff. I don't want to make the mistakes I've made. I don't want to let the team down any more. My coaches, my family, everybody was let down by me making stupid mistakes like that. So during warmups and meetings and stuff like that, I just make sure I have a ball in my hands.
Have you feel like you've gotten better with your ball security?
Woods: Coaches have been on me this week even in the littlest drills that I've got to carry it high and tight and have my chin to the ball every single play. That's kind of instilled in my head right now. So if I keep that mindset every single play, I shouldn't have a problem.
You guys have a long winning streak in Big East play. How important is it to you to keep that going?
Woods: It's very important. But to be honest, we're not worried about any game after Louisville. Louisville is tough and they're not the same team as before, so we need to come out with a fire under our feet. We're coming out to make a statement. We're kind of the underdog right now and we want to show the world what we can do and how things have turned around for us.