First-time starter to anchor SU backfield

Updated: August 14, 2003, 5:31 PM ET

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Southern's only defensive player who was on the Jaguar's last Southwestern Athletic Conference championship squad was a freshman back in 1999 and never played.

This year Southern will rely heavily on Eddie Woods, now a senior safety who'll anchor the defensive backfield.

"His role and (free safety) D'Angelo Lewis' role, both, are very important to our secondary," defensive backs coach Henry Miller said. "They have to be ready to play their positions at a high level in order for us to have a successful secondary."

Southern lost its two safeties from last season, Herman Hartman, who led the team in tackles, and Randy Williams.

The only returning starter in the secondary is senior left cornerback Lenny Williams, the Southwestern Athletic Conference preseason defensive player of the year.

But while Williams, who has started every game of his career, has plenty of experience, his position requires him to lock onto a receiver within five or 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. So he won't see plays develop like Woods and Lewis will.

"I feel comfortable," said Woods, who had 10 tackles (seven solo) and one pass deflection in seven games as a reserve safety last season. "I feel like the defense is going to rely on my checks and my calls. If I don't study film and know my checks and my calls, the defense is not going to be effective in what we do."

Woods, who played behind Hartman the last two seasons, is the second-most experienced defensive back. Lewis, who had three picks and 43 stops a year ago, is making the transition from cornerback.

"D'Angelo has the talent, but he's learning how to play (free safety)," Woods said. "Once we get him in the system, everything's going to come together."

Woods' number of tackles have decreased in each of the three seasons since he redshirted in 1999 (from 32 tackles to 17 to 10). He hasn't had an interception since a career-best two in 2001. And last year he played the least (seven games) of any of his three seasons.

Despite those declining numbers, Miller says he is confident in Woods, and Woods exudes more confidence as a player.

"He's a guy who's been around the block a few times," Miller said. "The young guys are depending on him to help. We need him to be a general on the field."

Miller, entering his fourth season with the team, is the one who moved Woods to strong safety.

"I figured he didn't have the flat-out overall speed to play corner, and the next step is to play him inside," Miller said. "He can probably give us the same smartness that Hartman gave us. That's what we're looking for."

Although Woods saw no playing time with the 1999 championship team, he said being on the roster helped mold his approach to this season.

"Consistency wins ballgames, wins championships," Woods said. "That's what they had in 1999: They were consistent in practice and in the game, and you have to practice like you play."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index