Woods finding his way
He's doing it, too. Looking smooth and sturdy, Woods is getting a heavy workload in practice as the Niners attempt to get him up to speed and make up for lost time. It almost seems worth the wait as Woods runs precise routes and uses his big body to shield the ball from defenders as he brings it into his hands. "To finally get out here is truly a blessing and I'm really happy about it," said Woods, who has been practicing at full speed for more than a week now. "It was frustrating at first, but as I began to get better, and heal my hamstring more, I started getting confidence and felt a lot better about my situation. All in all, deep down, I know I can play this game. And I believe the coaches know I can play this game, and I know that they know I'm not a disappointment." Actually, the Niners never have gone that far down in their opinion of their prized first-round draft pick. But it started getting pretty close two weeks ago when Woods returned after missing the previous two weeks with a right hamstring injury, only to tweak his left hamstring, which forced him back to the sidelines for another week. At that point, coach Dennis Erickson was becoming a bit antsy about getting opportunities to evaluate Woods to determine where he might fit into the team's receiving plans this year. When the Niners spent the No. 31 overall pick in the 2004 draft on Woods in April, there was some talk – or, should we say, hope – that he might challenge to be the team's No. 1 receiver this year. Entering training camp, Woods was in position to challenge for the No. 3 receiving role and perhaps work his way into the starting lineup as summer progressed into fall. Instead, he fell out of the rotation behind starters Brandon Lloyd and Cedrick Wilson and top backups Curtis Conway and Arnaz Battle. He's working his way back up now. After making his professional debut last week against Minnesota, Woods will see extensive playing time in Thursday's preseason finale against San Diego as the Niners look to see exactly where Woods fits in with the regular season looming. "He'll play quite a bit in this game," Erickson said. "I just want to see improvement. I mean, he's improving out here in practice. He's got a better feel for what is going on. He's running better routes, he's understanding things, his feet are a lot better. He's just improved, and I want to see that improvement in the game." Erickson liked what he saw of Woods against Minnesota, even though Woods didn't play until the second half with other reserves and he never saw a pass come his way. Still, Erickson said, "he did some good things in the Vikings game. I thought blocking-wise, he did some really good things and he ran some good routes. He never got anything thrown to him, but I thought it was good. He's coming out of his breaks. He got himself open a couple of times. He was good for the first time out." And he's just getting started, Woods assures. "It's been a learning curve for me," he said. "But I feel like I'm practicing well now. I let it go (against Minnesota), played as hard as I could and graded out really well. It was a lot like college out there in that I was able to have a lot of fun and do some good things. That's the plan for this next game, too, to go out and give 100 percent and do the best I can. I've got to get up and get even with these other guys now and give myself that opportunity." The Niners could use a boost in a passing game that has looked far from extraordinary this summer. Though preseason statistics can be misleading and deceptive, Lloyd, for instance, has just three receptions for 20 yards – and he is generally regarded as San Francisco's No. 1 receiving threat entering the season. There definitely is a role waiting for Woods somewhere in that receiving rotation as soon as he shows he's ready, which may be a lot sooner than anybody would have thought just a few weeks ago. "I really feel like if I had been healthy, I'd be in a great position right now," Woods said. "But I'm not going to sit down and sulk about it. I'm just going to go out and reload my guns and do the best I can. Continue to make plays and time – that's all I need. I've got to make plays and out-perform the guy in front of me."
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