Woodson grapples with new job title: safety
By Jarrett Bell, USA Today
~GREEN BAY, Wis. – People keep telling Charles Woodson that switching to safety is a natural progression that will extend his career. He is looking for examples.
“The only two people I know of are Ronnie (Lott) and Rod (Woodson),” the Green Bay Packers star said, mentioning Hall of Famers as he pondered the topic in a lobby at Lambeau Field. “But people are always saying it.”
Two more names come to mind: Aeneas Williams and Everson Walls. “Yeah,” Woodson said. “That’s right.”
Perhaps Woodson, entering Year 15 of a stellar NFL career, will become a handy example of a standout cornerback who transitioned to safety.
“Hopefully,” he said.
After earning his eighth Pro Bowl selection and tying for the NFL lead with seven interceptions last season, Woodson is embracing change.
For several years, he has moved off the island to play slot cornerback, in addition to special packages as a safety. He will continue to work the slot role in nickel and dime packages, but in the base defenses, he no longer will man the outside.
The change has been an intriguing story line of training camp, as the Packers try to fix a defense that gave up more passing yards (4,796) last season than any other unit in NFL history.
While Tramon Williams returns at right corner, Jarrett Bush and Sam Shields are battling for Woodson’s old post at left corner. Woodson and Morgan Burnett are the starting safeties.
“It’s a new challenge,” Woodson said. “It’s been fun to learn the nuances of playing more safety. I’ve played some of it when we had three or four plays for me at safety. Now I know the whole package. It’s kind of refreshing.”
He downplays the adjustments that come with his switch, such as attacking from different angles and surveying the field with a broader scope of vision.
“The only real difference I will see is when I’m backpedaling and having to come from that position to make the tackles,” he said.
At 35, Woodson is undeniably an old man in a young man’s game. He is the league’s second-oldest defensive back, after Tampa Bay Buccaneers 37-year-old nickel back Ronde Barber.
“I’ve got some grays,” Woodson said, rubbing his fingers across his close-cropped head. “But it really doesn’t feel like it’s been 15 years. I feel good. I’m in a good space.”
That space will be better if the Packers defense can rebound.
Green Bay was 15-1 last season, but its worst-ranked pass defense was often a liability.
In the NFC divisional playoff loss to the New York Giants, Eli Manning stung the unit for 330 yards and three touchdown passes.
Woodson knows what’s coming. The Packers open Sept. 9 against the San Francisco 49ers and Randy Moss — “I’ll be interested to see where he’s at after we play him,” he says — and then host the Chicago Bears four days later.
Chicago’s passing attack has been revitalized by wideout Brandon Marshall, reunited with Jay Cutler, his former Denver Broncos quarterback.
The early matchups might add a few more gray hairs.
“It’s about to get tough,” Woodson said. “Right off the bat, we’ll find out where we’re headed as a defense.”
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