If the budding chemistry between EJ Manuel and Robert Woods blossoms into something beautiful for the Buffalo Bills, they can give part of the thanks to ... the New York Jets.
It was on a pre-draft visit to the Bills’ AFC East rivals that Manuel and Woods initially bonded.
“We were able to hang out pretty much the whole day or two days,” Manuel said. “It’s just crazy that we ended up on the same team, so instantly we texted each other and we were happy about it.”
Woods said he and Manuel spent plenty of time on that New York visit comparing their two collegiate programs, USC and Florida State. They’re in the same playbook now, and wasted very little time showing it.
Woods was a favorite target of Manuel during the team’s recent rookie minicamp.
“He always seemed to be open and ran great routes,” Manuel said of Woods after one of the practices. “You want to get the playmakers the ball.”
There weren’t many receivers in the draft with as much playmaking ability as Woods. His 32 career receiving touchdowns were the most of any wideout drafted in the first two rounds last month – and Woods left school a year early.
“I definitely weighed my options and figured this was the best decision for me,” he said of leaving school early, adding his decision was not influenced by the fact quarterback Matt Barkley graduated. “I’m pretty confident with our quarterbacks we have there, Max Wittek and Cody Kessler. It had nothing to do with the quarterback. I felt confident in both. It was the best decision for me and my family. They always say this doesn’t last forever, so I might as well get it while I can. I can still do school at the same time.”
Woods, who became the seventh of the Bills’ eight draft picks to sign his rookie contract Monday, has two semesters left in his pursuit of a degree in policies, planning and development. His four-year contract is expected to be worth about $4.8 million.
He missed last week’s organized team activities as USC’s class did not graduate until Friday, but was back Monday for his first workout with the full team.
“It felt good to be back on the field, but it was a lot more fast-paced on the field with the vets than it was at rookie camp,” Woods told the team’s official website, buffalobills.com, after the practice. “No huddle, a lot of fast-paced offense, conditioning and everything. ... It’s fun to be with the guys again.”
Woods is penciled in as the team’s No. 2 receiver behind established veteran Stevie Johnson.
“I do have a great opportunity, but I know these guys who have been here are not going to let it come easy,” Woods said. “There’s three to four receiver positions, one is pretty much locked up. Right now it’s just competing. We’re all competing for that same two or three spots.”
Woods bring a polished reputation into the NFL.
He started each of his 38 games for the Trojans and set a program record with 252 catches for 2,930 yards – sixth most in school history – and eclipsed 100 receiving yards in 10 games.
He’s quick to point out, however, that all that production doesn’t amount to anything now that he’s collecting a paycheck for playing.
“That’s at the college level. This is a new start, new beginning, but I’m trying to bring that with me, translate it to this level and compete against the top guys here,” he said.
Rookie receivers traditionally have a difficult time adjusting to the NFL level compared to other rookies, but Woods is hoping to buck that trend.
“It’s all up to the receiver, I would say. I’m fortunate to come from an offense where it’s quite similar,” he said. “I think that helps me play fast and adapt to the whole offense and really be more comfortable in this system.”
Woods certainly sets the bar high when modeling his game after those who have come before him – naming Jerry Rice and Reggie Wayne as his role models.
“My past coaches were in Oakland and in contact with Jerry somehow so they all have a lot of his film, which is fortunate for me because I got to see how he works. So I try and put that in my game,” he said.
Free agent running back Montell Owens visited practice Monday.
A two-time Pro Bowl selection as a special teams player with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Owens started four games last season in place of the injured Maurice Jones-Drew.
The eight-year veteran had 209 yards and a touchdown on 42 carries in 2012 after getting just 18 touches in his first six years.
Owens made the Pro Bowl in 2010 and 2011 and holds the Jags’ record for special teams tackles (118).