In the Film Room: Cierre Wood

Tom Zbikowski was a dominant punt returner during the 2005 season. With that exception the Irish return game has been at best average in this millennium. If the Irish are fortunate enough to have Cierre Wood fax them a letter of intent next February that would likely change.

Cierre Wood is one of the nation's top running backs; but what has me the most excited about this young man is his ability as a return man, especially in the punt game. His ability to excel as a runner, receiver, and return man make Wood one of the nation's top players. With the ball in his hands you won't find a more dangerous football player in the country.

The Santa Clara star is more than just a return man. He's also an outstanding talent as a running back. With good height and a good frame that should allow him to play at over 210 pounds, Wood has the size to be an all around running back. In time his game will match. Most backs with Wood's physical abilities are smaller backs. What makes Wood unique is he is able to do what he does on the football field at 200 pounds. The bigger and stronger he gets the more dangerous he will become.

While he is not a true burner, the Oxnard, CA native does have good speed, good acceleration, and a very good burst. Wood is a very smooth athlete, which at times can hide how fast he is on the field. But once he gets a crease he is able to explode through the hole putting all eleven defenders in chase mode. On most occasions they are left chasing Wood into the end zone. As he gets stronger and develops physically, the faster he will get. That's scary for future Irish opponents and exciting for Irish fans and coaches.

His smooth running style can make his speed deceiving, but as I mentioned previously, if he gets a crease there aren't any high school players on his schedule who will catch him. I doubt there will be too many college defenders who will be able to catch him in the future.

While his speed can be a weapon, it isn't his best physical attribute. His best physical attribute at this time is his wonderful agility. Wood is a smooth athlete with tremendous foot quickness. He has fluid hips and is able to make every cut. Wood also has very good balance and is able to stay on his feet after contact. When defenders get their arms on Wood he simply spins with them and leaves them flailing and allows him to continue up-field. He also is extremely quick spinning away from defenders and bursting free. That balance also allows him to change direction without losing speed.

In fact, Wood has a unique ability to burst out of his cuts and accelerate up-field. He is able to weave in and out of traffic without missing a beat. This ability to burst out of his cuts and weave in traffic makes it almost impossible to bring him down in the secondary or on down field runs. Defenders can't get a read on what he is about to do.

As a running back Wood is more than just a pure athlete. He has traits that are hard to teach, if they can be taught at all. The first is his patience. It's rare to find such a young and talented running back who is willing to be as patient as Wood. He allows the blocking up front to develop and then explodes through the hole.

At times he is a bit too patient, but he's so athletically superior to his competition that he's still able to make big plays in high school. In college he'll need to learn to know when to be patient and when to just go. The Santa Clara star loves to bounce outside and back. The system he runs in high school does a great job of using this tendency. While he'll need to learn when to bounce outside and when to just pound it for a minimal gain, it's a trait that will lead to a number of big gains at the next level.

The second trait is his vision. Wood has an uncanny intuition when reading the defense. It's as if he sees the hole open up before it actually opens. His timing in hitting those holes leads to a ton of big gains. Wood also is able to see defenders attack him and make them miss.

The Oxnard native is tremendous in space. He is rarely tackled in space when he's able to square up defenders. Defenders who try to get him from an angle don't fair any better. For a player with his size he is a very hard target for defenders. Wood also does a solid job reading second level defenders. As they flow and scrape he reads them and is able to attack the line of scrimmage and cut away from these defenders.

I like the fact Wood never stops churning his legs. When he gets in a crowd of defenders he picks his legs up and starts to drive. As he gets stronger, which I've said a few times, this will allow him break tackles with power and not just his tremendous agility.

As I mentioned before, right now power is not a part of his game. He'll break tackles in high school but it has more to do with the level of competition than it does his power. This might seem as a criticism but it actually is a good thing. Wood isn't afraid to run through defenders, it's just that he lacks the lower body strength to be as effective against elite competition in that regard. But as he gets stronger and develops his lower body strength he'll be able to run through tackles at the next level. This will make Wood very hard to stop.

Wood has some wide receiver in his background as well. Throughout his high school career Wood has been asked to catch the football. He accumulated over 700 receiving yards during his sophomore and junior seasons combined. This came out of the backfield and also while lining up as a wide receiver. This will allow Wood to be on the field simultaneously with Notre Dame's bigger backs like Robert Hughes and Jonas Gray. Wood catches the ball naturally. His timing when exploding up to the ball needs some work, but Wood should be a threat in college catching the football.

Wood will need some time to get accustomed to running from the I formation in college. He'll need to be more consistent attacking the line of scrimmage between the tackles at the next level. Wood also tends to run a bit high at times, but showed quite a bit of improvement in his junior film.

As good as he is as a running back, what has me the most excited about his commitment to Notre Dame is Wood's tremendous ability as a punt returner. I've said this before, but finding a big time punt returner is much harder than finding a kick returner. Wood is a natural punt returner. Although I'd like to see him catch the ball more and not let it bounce, once he has the ball in his hands he is dangerous. I counted five punt returns for touchdowns in his highlight clips.

The senior-to-be is much more decisive as a punt returner than he is as a running back. He also shows much more speed as a punt returner. It could be my imagination but he looks faster when returning punts. He sees an opening and explodes through it. Whether it's creasing it up the middle or bursting to the outside, Wood will find the hole and take it all the way. I can't wait to see Wood returning kicks at Notre Dame.

I was surprised to hear that Cierre Wood committed to Notre Dame this early. Landing a player of Wood's caliber, after a 3-9 season, speaks volumes about the Irish coaching staff ability to recruit, but it also speaks volumes about the type of person Cierre Wood is at an already early age. Wood is a tremendously versatile football player and will increase the athletic ability of the Irish football team. Wood has the ability to be a dominant punt returner, and in time should develop into an outstanding all around running back as well. Top Stories