Saints hope they have found diamond in Woods
By GLENN GUILBEAU
Tiger Rag Featured Columnist
METAIRIE - The New Orleans Saints were growing tired of seeing defensive tackle after defensive tackle selected through the first three rounds of the NFL draft last weekend and into the fourth round.
No less than 14 tackles were scooped up - two in the first three picks (Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh and Oklahoma’s Gerald McCoy), four in the first round overall, six in the second round, three in the third round and Georgia’s Geno Atkins on the 22nd pick of the fourth round and 120th overall Saturday afternoon.
The Saints were 10 picks away in the fourth round at No. 32 after Atkins went to Cincinnati. They did not want to wait that long. They feared that targeted LSU defensive lineman Al Woods, among the biggest of the tackles at 6-foot-4, 309, and one of the fastest for his size with a 5.00 time in the 40-yard dash at LSU’s Pro Day, may get picked before their turn.
So while Woods was in his backyard in Elton with his father chilling, New Orleans was dealing. The Saints sent Arizona their sixth round pick of Saturday and swapped fourth round selections, moving up to the Cardinals’ spot at 25th in the fourth round. They made Woods the 15th defensive tackle chosen in the draft and the 123rd player overall.
“It’s hard to find those defensive tackles,” said Saints coach Sean Payton, whose defense was often victimized by strong inside running games last season. “You saw the premium placed on the first day in how they’re selected.”
Woods, the No. 2 defensive tackle in the nation coming out of Elton High in 2006 who underachieved at LSU and started regularly only in 2009, was even taken aback that the Saints traded to make sure they got him. He knew they were interested in him. They had just called him during the fourth round. And the week before the draft, Woods worked out at the Saints facility and visited with club officials and coaches with his father, also Al Woods, by his side.
“Yes, I was surprised,” Woods said on a teleconference Saturday. “I couldn’t believe it that I was a priority for them. So when they moved up to get me after the phone call, my heart exploded. I was so excited. I was jumping around in the yard. My dad and I were spending the time together. It’s just a great feeling.”
“I was praying and hoping that when the time was right and at the time to select, they would do it,” he said. “It’s going to be a dream come true. I can’t wait. I’m so excited. I can’t wait to come down there and go to work.”
That will not be a long trip, and Woods is familiar with the Saints’ home stadium. That’s where the Tigers won the BCS national championship on Jan. 7, 2008, when Woods was a sophomore.
“For me to actually move right down the street to New Orleans and to play for a great team like they have right now and just to stay in the great state of Louisiana and play for all these great people that are down here and to enjoy everything and embrace it, it’s unbelievable. It couldn’t happen in a better way.”
Woods wanted to be a Saint as badly as the Saints wanted him. He could not make himself watch much of the draft, though.
“I was a little nervous,” he said. “I stayed outside and didn’t watch it. Whatever happened, happened. Wherever God wanted me to be, I’d be. I was outside with my dad talking, thinking about where I could go and what could happen. The next thing I knew my phone rang, and the Saints were calling again. It worked out beautifully. It worked out perfect.”
Woods has much to prove if his NFL career is to provide him with as much happiness as draft day obviously did. Payton and Saints general manager Mickey Loomis spoke highly of Woods’ measurables, but there was not as much discussion about what he actually did on the field. That BCS championship game? Woods did not record a statistic.
In 41 college games and 16 starts over his last two seasons, Woods had all of 3.5 sacks, one quarterback hurry and zero forced fumbles. While his impressive wingspan and large hands were discussed recently, Woods used those tools for exactly one blocked pass in his career.
“Some of those goals and some of those expectations I didn’t meet,” Woods admitted.
“He’s got technique problems,” NFL draft expert Mike Detillier said. “He never really had a good coach until his senior year. That hurt him. Somebody needs to light a fire under him. It never really happened at LSU. He’s never been mean enough.”
Earl Lane was his defensive line coach from 2006-08. Lane, who had more high school coaching experience than college and was hired primarily as a recruiter from South Florida, was let go after the disastrous defensive season in 2008 and did not get immediately get another coaching job. Brick Haley, an SEC veteran line coach, was hired in 2009 after being let go by the Chicago Bears.
Woods will get the chance to finally answer his potential, character and looks with the Saints under mastermind defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who likes turning around project players, and NFL veteran line coach Bill Johnson.
“He will have excellent coaching with the Saints,” Detillier said.
“He’s the kind of guy that pushes,” Woods said of Williams. “He’s real aggressive with a strong personality, which is what I like. He tells you what he wants and how he wants to get it done. It’s his way or the highway.”
Before the draft, LSU coach Les Miles, like Saints coaches, discussed Woods’ looks.
“He has the great measurable,” he said. “He has tremendous speed for a guy with his kind of size. He’s never been injured. Whoever gets Al will be spending their pick wisely.”
Make that two picks because of the trade.
“We just felt like there were a lot of picks and a real danger that he wasn’t going to be available to us at 130,” Loomis said. “We clearly had a conviction for this player. We spent a lot of time on all the defensive tackles. In a couple of cases, they didn’t fall to us earlier, but I think we were lucky to get Al, to be honest with you. We’re excited to have him. We like the makeup of Al. He’ll fit well in our locker room. He’s a hard-working kid. He has the size and has been a good player for LSU. We see a big kid with athletic ability and a chance to get bigger and stronger.”
Payton sees untapped potential and kept bringing up his size.
“He’s a big body,” he said. “He’s someone that showed athleticism. There’s a lot in front of him. I do think as he gets into the system here and becomes familiar with what we’re asking him to do, I think he’s a guy whose arrow’s pointed up.”
As a fourth round pick, Woods will not have the pressure to perform as he did as the No. 2 defensive tackle in the nation at LSU.
“I’m going to do whatever it takes,” he said. “I’ll play on special teams. I’ll do anything.”