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Emerging Defensive Player Darren Woodson


When the Dallas Cowboys opened their season against the Steelers in Pittsburgh, Cowboy safety Darren Woodson was reminded of just how he was viewed. "Hey, Darren!" someone yelled from the seats at Three Rivers Stadium. "There's only one Woodson! His name's Rod!"

If there were a dozen Woodsons in the league, they would all exist in the shadow of Rod, the Steeler All-Pro who is merely one of the best cornerbacks in NFL history. But the 6'1", 215-pound Darren, in his third season, is beginning to establish quite a name for himself as a masher who doubles as an outside linebacker in passing situations. At midseason Darren Woodson, 25, is the most productive player on the best defense in the NFL. He is leading Dallas in tackles (62), solo tackles (39) and interceptions (four). He has also deflected seven passes.

A combination of strength, brute-force hitting and speed—4.35 seconds in the 40—makes Woodson the most versatile player on the Super Bowl champions. "I think his college experience playing outside linebacker gave him an appreciation of tackling skills," says Cowboy defensive coordinator Butch Davis. "A lot of times when you put defensive backs up near the line of scrimmage, they're uncomfortable around the linemen and linebackers. Darren is used to inserting himself into piles and cracks where backs pop out."

Last year Woodson, playing with a broken forearm, made 155 tackles, second-best on the team. In last January's win against the New York Giants that clinched the NFC East title for Dallas, he rolled up 19 tackles, the second highest ever for a Cowboy. As much as he respects the other Woodson, Darren says that he admires future Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott, now a New York Jet. "He's the player every safety dreams of being like," Woodson says. "I want to make every fourth-and-one play. I want to be the dictator out there."