PITTSFORD – Count EJ Manuel among those who were perplexed over how the Buffalo Bills used receiver Robert Woods in Sunday’s preseason opener against the New York Giants.
“A little bit, for Woody not to be in with us with the ones,” Manuel said when asked if he was surprised Woods was not in the starting lineup. “But he did great. Woody’s going to be Woody with whatever he’s given. So I was still glad to see him go out there and do a great job.”
Woods could only offer a “no” with a smile when asked whether he was told why he wasn’t in the starting lineup. The Bills began the game with rookie Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams at receiver. The third player to check in at the position was Chris Hogan.
“I mean, it is what it is,” Woods said. “Come out here and make plays whenever I’m on the field. … Every time I come out here, I just try to prove a point. Every day is an example and just proof of why I’m here.”
Coach Doug Marrone was asked after the game why it was Hogan, and not Woods, as the third receiver, but his answer didn’t shed much light on the situation.
“He came in only in the slot,” Marrone said of Hogan.
Marrone said Tuesday Woods played into the third quarter because the Bills wanted to see him in the slot, and the reason Hogan got the first crack at the job is “we’re just trying to find the best players.”
Of course, the slot is where Woods lined up most in the spring and figured to play after the Bills traded away veteran Stevie Johnson in the offseason. Woods made 40 catches last season for 587 yards and three touchdowns in 14 starts. He missed two games with a high-ankle sprain. Hogan, meanwhile, had 10 catches for 83 yards, but had a strong first two weeks of camp.
It’s possible the Bills feel like they know what they have in Woods and simply wanted to learn more about what they have in Hogan.
Woods was asked after the game whether he had spent more time recently practicing on the outside.
“I would say so,” he said. “I mean, it’s a little bit of everything. Every practice is different, depending on the emphasis of the practice, but … inside or outside at practice, just trying to make plays.”
That’s something Woods did when he got in Sunday night. He led the Bills with four catches for 49 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown reception on a fourth-down pass from Jeff Tuel.
“Just a quick out route. Tuel put the ball in a catchable position and I finished it up,” Woods said of the play. “It’s a tight zone. Everything is going to happen quicker. Just got to get open. It’s always going to be contested in the red zone.”
Two of Tuel’s first three passes – both completions – went to Woods.
“Robert is a competitor and I know he wanted the ball and he’ll do anything he can in his power to get open and get the ball,” Tuel said. “Some of it was progression and another was pick a side and if the guy is hot you just keep feeding him.”
Woods said he hopes the Bills continue to be aggressive on those fourth-down situations.
“We have enough weapons – whether it’s in the air or on the ground – to make plays like that,” he said. “We’ve just got to keep executing like so the coach can trust us.”