LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – During his playing days at the University of Louisville and later with the Buffalo Bills, Eric Wood fashioned a standout offensive line career as a consummate student of the game of football.
So it won’t surprise anyone around here that he’s attacking his new position of game and studio analyst for ESPN’s ACC Network with the same approach that brought him success on the field.
Wood has always been comfortable breaking down film, identifying opponent tendencies and strengths and weaknesses, and not just along the line of scrimmage. As a player, he worked hard at knowing what was coming.
He just didn’t see the end of his football career coming so soon. After experiencing NFL success at center, including a Pro Bowl trip in 2015, Wood was forced to retire in January of 2018 when a postseason team physical revealed a neck injury that would not allow him to be cleared to play again.
“My football career got taken from me out of nowhere, but to still be involved with sports, and to be able to cover a conference that has my Cardinals in it, and to be able to do Bills radio, I’m just truly blessed,” Wood said.
Wood will be a busy man this fall. He’ll do ACC games for the ACC Network on Thursday, Friday or early Saturday, then head to wherever the Bills are on Saturday night in time to prep for his job as the Bills color analyst.
“I always have to be wherever the Bills are on Saturday night, so it’ll be a busy fall,” he said. “But I’m used to being busy in the fall. The good thing is that part of my broadcast crew, Wes Durham, is also doing Atlanta Falcons radio, so they know they need to get us out to those duties at a decent time.”
After his abrupt retirement, Wood took a ground-up approach to trying to build a broadcast career. He signed on to the Bills media team in May and earned good reviews as the team’s color analyst on radio last season. At the same time, he was looking for an opportunity in television.
Last summer he met with Amy Rosenfeld, a senior contributing producer who is leading the launch of the ACC Network, to express an interest in the network, and to get some advice. And he worked to get any kind of broadcast experience he could find.
“Last year I did a couple of pregame shows for Stadium, did a game for Fox, took auditions for Fox and ESPN doing call-in games and some studio stuff,” Wood said. “I worked with a broadcast coach a little bit, doing Skype sessions. And I reached out to a number of guys in the business for tips and preparation tactics, whatever they could give me. Ultimately experience will be the best teacher in this business, and fortunately I’ll be getting double the experience this year. But I have been prepping on the colleges, and prepping on some of the players, and that’s going to bring more confidence, the more prepared I can be.”
Wood said he’s looking forward to diving into a well-defined set of teams, instead of having spot duty around the country where you drop in on one team for one game, then move somewhere else the next week. He also said he’s glad to have a chance to cover his alma mater. He still referred to Louisville’s team as “my Cardinals” in an interview last week, but said he knows he’ll have to play it straight in the booth – most of the time.
“I have to cover everybody,” he said. “I think they did a really good job bringing people in from all these universities, so I’m sure there will be a lot of friendly banter . . . But you have to put that bias aside, and the further I get removed from my playing days – this is my 11th year now – it gets easier and easier to remove yourself and look at it from different colored glasses where you’re not really biased.”
Describing the game is a strength for Wood. He knows what he’s seeing on the football field, and is good at communicating that to viewers and listeners.
“From a schematic standpoint, there’s not going to be a whole lot that surprises me when I see it on the football field,” Wood said. “It’s just going to be learning players and storylines and implementing those into a broadcast. You have to give people what they want to hear. When you watch a lot of these college games, you’re appealing to family, friends, fans of these programs. Especially if it’s not a top 10 matchup, you’ve got to have storylines that people are intrigued by, and not just piggyback something like, the Louisville scandals. It always ticked me off when people would talk about the same storylines. I wanted them to give me something I didn’t know.”
Wood should be able to deliver on that count, with his insight into the game itself. Still, he’ll be describing two different games in doing college and NFL on the same weekend, and he knows that will double the workload.
The expectation of an NFL fan is a bit different from what the college viewer will want, and ESPN likes its announcers to appeal to wide circles of fans, not necessarily just fans of programs in the games.
“The games are different,” he said. “In talking with a number of people, the trends used to go from the NFL down. Now the trends are going from college up. So the NFL game is starting to look more and more like the college game. In college you’ve got the difference in the hashes and a little less talent, a little less speed, but a lot of this option stuff and RPO stuff you’re starting to see in the NFL, and defenses are having to adapt as well.”
As far as Louisville, Wood said that the early indications are that players were happy with the change in coaching staffs, but whether that will translate to wins on the field remains to be seen.
“Scott Satterfield immediately came in and started working on trust and relationships with the players, and I think they’re succeeding at that,” Wood said. “From what players I’ve talked to, they’re happy with the change of culture already. On-field success, we’re going to have to wait until this fall. There’s no Heisman Trophy winner there. But I don’t think the cupboard is completely bare, especially at receiver. I think they have some playmakers there, and hopefully they can get them the ball. In my opinion, honestly, the defense can’t get worse. You’re talking about your fourth defensive coordinator in four years. That’s tough for guys. These are young guys having to learn new schemes, but they do return a lot of guys over there.”
And they’ll return one of the best in the program’s recent history in the booth. Wood, who is still adjusting to life off the field, can’t wait.
"I'm just really excited," Wood said. "To be around the game of football and able to cover this great conference, it's a dream come true."
Copyright 2019 WDRB Media. All Rights Reserved.