Mature Woodson Embraces Change Like Pro

Given his stature on the team, Charles Woodson could have gone kicking and screaming to safety. Instead, the man who has a chance to become the 10th player in NFL history with 60 interceptions says he's thankful for the opportunity.

Back in Oakland, Charles Woodson had the reputation of being surly and moody.

Times have changed. As he enters his seventh season in Green Bay, Woodson has resurrected his career and his reputation.

At age 35 and practically a sure-fire Hall of Famer, the notion of moving Woodson to safety – even it's for 10 or 15 snaps per game, on average – might have led to bruised egos and hurt feelings. Considering how the younger players gravitate toward Woodson, an upset Woodson could have led to a split locker room and doomed the season.

Instead, Woodson made the conversation sound as if it were as mundane as being asked about ketchup or mustard.

"They told me (he was going to play more safety)," Woodson said with a smile. "They said, ‘Hey, you're playing safety. Get back there.' That's what I did."

Maybe it wasn't quite that short and sweet. With 54 career interceptions, including 37 in Green Bay, Woodson is one of the best cornerbacks in NFL history. Cornerback is a premier position, especially compared to safety. Just look at the first round or two of any draft or the list of defensive backs in the Hall of Fame to see which position is held in higher esteem.

It's a different sport but a worthy comparison, nonetheless. For the past couple of years, the Yankees have wanted to move Derek Jeter out of shortstop because of his age and declining range at a critical defensive position. Jeter, however, has bristled at the very mention of being moved from his home in the lineup for the last decade-and-a-half.

Woodson, on the other hand, has embraced his new part-time home on the defense.

"It does re-challenge me," Woodson said. "Actually, I'm thankful that they're giving me the opportunity to compete for a job. At 35, in this league, they try to find ways to get you out of the NFL, but the Packers have continued to increase my workload, which is great. I'm looking forward to writing a new chapter in my book."

Of course, the Jeter comparison is flawed in one regard. Any move of Jeter would be for all 27 outs in a game. For the most part, Woodson's role from past seasons won't change dramatically, which is enough to make you wonder if too many words are being written on this subject. Most of the time, he'll be playing the nickel role, which is where he's forged that Hall of Fame career, with occasional snaps at safety in the rarely used base defense.

"The plan is, each week, like it's been in the past, depending on who we're playing, things could change up," he said. "That's part of the flexibility we'll have as a defense is being able to move guys around."

One reason why Woodson so quickly accepted his new role is because it will put him in position to make even more plays. That's a big statement, considering he tied for the NFL lead in interceptions last season and is the NFL's pick-off king for two of the last three years. However, it's easy to steer clear of a cornerback by throwing the ball somewhere else. It's hard to avoid a safety, especially one who's such a student of the game.

"Anywhere you put Wood, he's going to be around the ball," safety M.D. Jennings said. "He's just a great athlete. Regardless of where he's lined up on the field, he's going to be around the ball and make plays."

Charlie Peprah, who wasn't deemed good enough to warrant a spot on the training camp roster, had five interceptions last season. Morgan Burnett, playing with a cast on a broken hand for much of the season, had four.

What might Woodson, who needs six interceptions become the 10th player in NFL history with 60, do once he masters the nuances of the position?

"I think it can (increase his chances to make plays) in situations where I'm able to kind of roam a little bit and help out," Woodson said. "It's different from corner, where you're usually worried about a particular receiver and how he can threaten you as a corner. As a safety, you get to move around a little bit more and show different looks and not have that responsibility of just having one guy. It will be fun to play more safety. I'm getting a lot more of the calls as a safety. I'm used to being out at corner and seeing plays from that angle. To be able to play at safety and really, really, really understand the play even more, I think will play to my advantage."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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