A wealth of new talent at wide receiver has been getting a good deal of the headlines at Bills training camp. Despite the addition of receivers like Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams along with the emergence of fellow second year WR Chris Hogan, Woods is leading the team in receiving through the team's first three preseason contests. Simply put when it's come to game time, Robert Woods has been at the forefront of the passing game. More importantly Woods' consistency has earned the trust of QB EJ Manuel during some of the game's most critical moments.
"It's big," said Woods. "Just trying to be consistent and make the most plays on the field when I have the opportunity to. There are catches here and there, but as a wide receiver I just want to keep making those plays all game. I'm just trying to show my consistency and show the coaches I can do that every down."
The new talent has had a positive impact on the passing game. Woods, who started each of the 14 games he played in last year, has yet to start in any of the preseason games. Nevertheless he leads the team with 11 catches for 129 yards and a touchdown to lead the receiving corps. Not starting has not shaken Manuel's confidence that Woods will be on the field with the rest of the first team when the games count.
"Woody is going to play in my opinion," said Manuel. "I don't think there's ever going to be a game when he's not playing. I assume that he'll be out there when we first go out as the first group. He's such a versatile receiver. You could put him in the slot and put him outside. That's on [Offensive Coordinator] (Nathaniel) Hackett and [Head Coach] (Doug) Marrone to make that decision, but I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that he'll be on the field."
Woods' role as Manuel's fail safe became apparent during the team's 19-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers Saturday. Woods took front and center after Watkins took a knee to the ribs and exited the game. Woods was Manuel's go to guy on third down, receiving three of the seven third down pass attempts, the biggest being a 3rd-and-nine in which Woods beat out veteran Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu for the conversion.
"I was just running across the field, I had a crossing route," said Woods. "Troy (Polamalu) tried to cut me off and I got underneath and made the play. Tried to turn it up and got a great block from FB Frank (Summers) and converted on that."
Woods cashed in on another highlight reel opportunity, this time on 2nd-and-five during the Bills' first full drive of the second quarter. Manuel hit Woods for a short completion to the left which he broke for a 30-yard gain before being pushed out of bounds.
Later, Woods was robbed of a major play that would have brought the first team offense a touchdown for the first time this preseason. In the final minutes of the half, the Bills found themselves in 3rd-and-goal on the Steelers' three yard line. Woods ran a fade on the left side of the end zone but tight coverage by Steelers' cornerback William Gay forced the play out of bounds. The Bills went for it on fourth and goal, but the pass to TE Scott Chandler was incomplete.
"I'm trying to make a play," said Woods of his attempt to pull in the touchdown. "Outside released on the guy. He's playing outside technique. A nice ball just a little too wide. We still connected, but out of bounds. We've got to make those plays. It's kind of the difference between winning the game and losing the game."
The inability to complete the play won't deter Manuel from giving Woods the credit for trying to make the big play under good defense.
"The corner pushed him out," said Manuel. "He pushed him wide out of bounds. The ball was in a spot where he could go make a play, but the defense does a good job sometimes too. Anytime we have an opportunity to throw a fade we want to take advantage of it. I feel all our guys are good fade runners, but the defense made a play on that one."
Woods' rookie season brought three touchdowns and 587 receiving yards spread out over 40 receptions while averaging almost 15 yards per catch. With this kind of history and the preseason he's had, there are big expectations for Woods even with all the flashy new talent the team has added this year.
"Woody has done a great job this whole camp," said Manuel. "Each day he's been out there playing with a hunger that you want to see from a receiver. He always feels like he's open. Even when he's covered he'll go out there and make a big catch for you."