(The second installment of a Senior Bowl week diary with Cincinnati's Eric Wood, a center for the South out of Louisville.)
MOBILE, Ala. - With most NFL coaches and scouts ducking back home Wednesday night and Thursday morning to largely leave the Gulf Coast to the players and coaches working Saturday night's Senior Bowl, Wood is pleased he won't hear the question he is most tired of answering:
"What game do you feel like you played the best this year?"
"You can go to the tape," Wood says, "and you can watch the Kentucky game where I went against SEC tackles. You can watch the West Virginia and Syracuse games against Big East defenses. You can watch any of my games on film and you're not going to be ashamed to draft me."
Since the interviews slowed, Wood is looking forward to eight hours of sleep Wednesday night with the game preparations ratcheting up, a process he's enjoying with the Jacksonville coaching staff. The practices have been tiring by themselves since he's already taken snaps at center as well as both guard spots.
|!(http://prod.static.bengals.clubs.nfl.com//assets/clubimages/news-articles/all-news/Wood300.jpg) **Louisville's Eric Wood** (Getty Images)|
"These guys are extremely intellectual and professional and they're fun to be around," Wood says of the coaches. "That's the big thing about the whole week down here. You're with people that have great passion for the game."
There is still a set of interviews left. On Thursday night the coaching staffs trade players so they can talk to the prospects, but Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis already has a pretty good grasp of Wood after sharing a news conference with him and North defensive tackle B.J. Raji of Boston College earlier in the week.
It is a setting that is comfortable for Wood. In Cincinnati and most NFL teams, the head coach and quarterback do the weekly news conferences. In Louisville, it was Wood and his head coach, a huge example of why his intangibles are huge in this draft.
"I enjoy the media. Yeah, I look at it that it's as important as doing anything else (like) practicing (and) playing," Wood says. "I've always had a good relationship with those guys. They've probably made me sound a little better than I played at times because of that."
Wood is only kidding on that last one. He has confidence in his abilities and while that's never wavered, the daily pounding sessions with highly-regarded USC middle linebacker Rey Maualuga have helped reinforce he can make the next leap.
Of course, it hasn't exactly been total warfare. Nothing like Ohio State-USC.
"We haven't said much to each other and we've only had a few straight shots on each other," Wood says. "He's an intense player. He's strong and big. But we've all got the same goals here. We all want to raise our stock and we want to remain healthy. The coaches have done a great job here always reminding us never to play out of control. I'm not looking to help myself at the expense of another player."
In the same spirit, Wood has stayed in touch with Raji this week even though he's on the other side Saturday. They share the same agent (David Dunn) and workout facility, but he won't try to pick Raji's brain that badly.
It's not only going to be a huge test for Wood against Raji's band of tackles that have impressed the North practices, among them BC teammate Rob Brace and Missouri's Ziggy Hood, but the defense is going to be going against three of the best centers in the country. Wood has been sharing snaps with Alabama's Antoine Caldwell and Arkansas' Jonathan Luigs, as well as rotating with them at guard.
"I don't know," he says when asked if he'll start. "I've played both center and guard with the ones."
He's been surprised that he's played as much right guard as anything. He only got two reps Wednesday at left guard, but he's enjoying the chance to show off his versatility.
But there are changes.
"You get to use your hands earlier at guard and you have a little more area to reach your guy," Wood says. "But I could see why it might be a little easier to play once you get used to it."