INDIANAPOLIS — The safeties had their roles at Louisiana Tech. Xavier Woods was the “interception guy,” responsible for making opposing quarterbacks pay for their mistakes through the air.
Kentrell Brice. Well, he was the thumper.
“Teams were afraid of him because he could hit,” said Woods at the NFL Scouting Combine on Sunday. “He doesn’t back down from anyone, man. Even a 225-(pound) running back, he is going to hit him as hard as he can. He’s going to try to put him on his back.”
So it came as no surprise to Woods watching his former teammate bring to the NFL level the same physicality he was known for during his four years with the Bulldogs.
Woods, who recently completed his senior season at Louisiana Tech, had seen those types of plays from Brice for as long as he can remember.
Before Brice signed with Green Bay as an undrafted free agent last spring, he and Woods composed a talented one-two punch for three seasons on the Bulldogs’ back end.
Brice registered 210 tackles, five sacks, three interceptions and four forced fumbles in 49 games with 33 starts before making his way to Green Bay.
Woods, who arrived on campus a year later than Brice, racked up 56 tackles (7½ for loss) and three interceptions as a junior next to Brice, one year after resetting the school record with 230 return yards on six interceptions.
When Brice left for the NFL, Woods took it upon himself to set the tone for the Bulldogs’ defense in 2016. He finished second on the team with 89 tackles (6½ for loss), five interceptions and three sacks.
“I became a leader of the defense, that physical guy on the defense,” Woods said. “Somebody had to take (his) place, so I took that role and I ran with it. … That’s what I took from him is his physical nature. He was a leader the year before, so I definitely took some of that from him.”
As time allowed, Woods made it a point to watch Brice and the Packers, including what he called Brice’s “breakout game” against the Cowboys in the NFC Divisional playoffs.
Brice, who played 52 defensive snaps due to an injury to Morgan Burnett, led the Packers’ defense with six tackles and a pass deflection. He also had a highlight-reel hit on Dallas receiver Cole Beasley that quickly went viral.
Coupled with his near-interception of Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott on a deep ball, Brice was one of several unsung heroes to step up in the Packers’ 34-31 win over the top-seeded Cowboys.
One of six undrafted rookies to make the Packers’ initial 53-man roster, Brice played in all 16 regular-season games and developed a role as a safety in Green Bay’s dime defense.
The 5-foot-11, 200-pounder finished his rookie year with 26 tackles and a deflection on 258 defensive snaps.
“He’s always been a hitter,” Woods said. “Me and him, we’re the same, but he’s always been a more physical hitter than I am. Tackling is mental. I think we both got it. He definitely has it and he’s shown it.”
The Packers face some uncertainty on the back end this offseason with Micah Hyde headed to free agency in the coming days, but the coaching staff has been pleased with the support Brice provided to Burnett and second-team All-Pro Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
Now on the verge of his own NFL career, Woods looks to Brice and five other former Bulldogs in the NFL as examples of players who have found success in the pros despite not coming from a power-five college conference.
You just have to work for it.
“Kentrell being my partner back there on the safety end, he’s like my brother, man,” Woods said. “This season, I talked to him a lot of the process and being in the league. I’m talking to him now. He’s given me insight and helping me out.”