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Pitt CB A.J. Woods: ‘If You Put in 10,000 Hours, You’re Gonna be Good’



Pitt cornerback A.J. Woods.

A.J. Woods isn’t the Terminator, but he approached the Pitt Pro Day this week with the same machine-like intensity that the Terminator himself approached tracking down Sarah Conner over the course of the Terminator franchise.

While there’s certainly no comparing the two tasks, Woods was a man on a mission at Pro Day Wednesday afternoon. If Woods took one thing from his time training with X3 Performance in Fort Myers, Fla. in preparation for Wednesday, it was to be a machine.

“It’s easy for guys to not hit a number that they want to and spiral down or hit a number that they really want to and the rest of the day doesn’t matter,” Woods said following his performance Wednesday. “So, I tried to attack it like a machine and just do all my technique right and go out there and take everything as it was.”

Woods was impressive. While he isn’t the biggest cornerback, listed at 5-foot-10, 187 pounds with short arms, he tested extremely well. Had he been invited to the NFL Combine, his 40-yard dash (4.30 u), 3-cone (6.61 u) and bench press reps (16) would have been in the top five among all cornerbacks in attendance.

The 40-yard dash, in particular, was impressive. There’s no official time for his 40 but after a strong 4.40 in his first attempt, Woods looked like he was flying across the turf — Terminator style? — on his second attempt: 4.30 unofficial.

Woods turned heads. He heard the noise level inside the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex grow. The scouts noticed, and Pat Narduzzi certainly noticed, too.

“I would say the one guy that turned my head would be A.J. Woods,” Narduzzi said Wednesday. “A.J. Woods had a great day, which I knew he would. Some guys are Pro Day guys out here that can run around the cones really good, but if you look at what he did out here today and then put the film on, A.J. Woods is a good football player.”

Woods wasn’t invited to the Combine last month. Despite turning a strong showing at the Hula Bowl into an appearance at the Shrine Bowl, meeting with just about every NFL team, he wasn’t invited to the biggest NFL Draft event of the offseason.

“It was a big motivation,” Woods said. “Growing up, since I was seven years old, me and my dad would watch the combine every year and just talk about my NFL dreams and I always thought that was a big part of living this dream. But obviously, God said that this is the path I gotta take and I was able to show out today.”

So, obviously, the goal was to come out and beat all the numbers at the Combine.

M.J. Devonshire, who did run — well — at the Combine, was able to use Woods as a sort of measuring stick.

“I didn’t the times I wanted to at the Combine, and I was like, ‘I gotta back to it,’ and A.J. showed up and I was like, ‘Let me watch A.J. run,’” Devonshire said Wednesday. “It brought the competitive nature out of me to run a better time. I didn’t beat him, but I ran better than at the Combine.”

Woods runs well, his speed and agility are elite, and it’s not as if he’s just sat on the bench at Pitt. He played in 59 games over five seasons as a Panther (making 13 starts) and racked up over 1,700 defensive snaps. In those five seasons, playing as a special teamer as a freshman, he racked up 102 tackles (69 solo), seven tackles for loss, two sacks, four interceptions and 25 pass breakups. He’s honed himself against some of the best the ACC has to offer — and helped the Panthers win an ACC championship.

It’s a defensive scheme that breeds fast, physical cornerbacks, but that’s only if a cornerback is able to stick in the system. It’s not for everyone, but Woods embraced it.

“For our own sake, having that mental toughness — in a 60-play game on defense, we’re probably playing press over half of that,” Woods said. “So, we have to get comfortable being uncomfortable and being ourselves out there. The more we can win our one-on-ones, when it comes time to be in the NFL, you have more help with leverages and overages, so we’re just ready for that transition.”

The heavy press man coverage, lining up outside one-on-one, is conducive for success at the next level. Believe it or not, cornerbacks at Pitt are asked to do more — schematically — than NFL corners. Those skills translate well when NFL safeties are asked to provide help over the top. And it’s been shown over the years with a run of defensive backs selected in the NFL Draft.

“Pitt has always had a rich history of putting defensive backs in the NFL, and they stick,” Woods said. “Dane Jackson just got a contract extension with the Panthers, and I played with all of these guys, so I try to emulate a lot of things that they’ve done because they were successful, they were able to make it work, so seeing him out here and having him watch us compete was big.”

Woods has had quite a few mentors in his collegiate journey, learning from guys who have made the jump to the NFL (like Damarri Mathis and Erick Hallett, who helped in his Pro Day preparation), but it’s the bond he’s built with Devonshire and Marquis Williams that stands out. Woods has played a lot of football with Devonshire and Williams over the last three seasons. He may be competing with some of his best friends, but they’re not going head to head, they’re working toward the same goal.

There was nothing but excitement in having the opportunity to compete for the NFL.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to compete and have the opportunity to play in the NFL, and this was an opportunity to — it’s just always been a dream of mine to come out here and compete for an opportunity to get drafted or be on an NFL roster,” Woods said. “I’ve repped so many of these drills, so many times throughout my career here that I just have to attack it like it’s any other day. If you put in 10,000 hours, you’re gonna be good at what you do.”

Woods is a fast, physical cornerback who, above all else (according to him), loves football. But he wants to compete and do whatever he can to impact a football game.

“I just want a shot, and I’ll be happy if I get a shot,” Woods said. “Obviously, I want to get drafted but I don’t want to be too high or too low.”

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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