GREEN BAY – Someday, Charles Woodson’s skills will diminish. They have to. At last scoreboard check, Father Time remains undefeated.
The Green Bay Packers just have to hope that it doesn’t happen anytime soon.
The veteran cornerback and possible Pro Football Hall of Famer enters his 15th NFL season set to turn 36 years old in October, and the Packers remain heavily reliant on him to tilt the field in favor of their defense.
That didn’t happen a whole lot last season for the 32 nd-ranked unit in the NFL, which gave up an NFL record number of passing yards. Still, Woodson was a game-changer, registering seven interceptions (tied for most in the NFL, and including one returned 30 yards for a touchdown), two sacks, one fumble recovery, one forced fumble and 83 tackles. While he’s no longer the cover man he once was, he’s still no slouch.
In fact, after he picked off five passes in the first seven games, quarterbacks did their best to avoid Woodson, just like the old days.
“Last year … we didn’t play good as a group, but it wasn’t because of Wood,” cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. “He turned 35 last year. Everybody wants to hang up on the age. Wood is going to be Wood, and Wood is going to play at a high level. Because when he feels like he can’t play at the level he’s playing at, he’s not going to play anymore. But that time is not here. Wood, he’s the last person I’m worried about. We’ve got 10 other guys we need to worry about before we worry about Charles Woodson.”
The greater issue with Woodson is where the Packers intend to play him this season. Coach Mike McCarthy refused to tip his hand during the mandatory minicamp in June, speaking only in generalities.
"Charles' role on our football team may change somewhere between 6 and 8 percent compared to where he's played in the past," McCarthy said, adding that the 35-year-old Woodson "absolutely" is still an every-down player. "I don't want to really get too detailed schematically. Really, it's something we should watch and see -- and let our opponents see. We're not recreating the wheel with him, that's for sure. I would define him as a playmaker in our defense. And it's our responsibility to make sure he's lined up in those positions to make plays."
Woodson said he doesn’t believe he’s lost anything – but if he has, he makes up for it with smarts.
“It's experience. I've been around the game a long time and I've seen just about everything,” Woodson said. “It's all about preparation throughout the week, getting ready and knowing what teams are doing to try to attack you. Now, at this stage, it's not so much about the receiver any more. It's about formations, it's about the offensive set; it's about their personnel that they have in the game, where they are on the field, on their side of the 50 or our side of the 50."
Woodson wasn’t perfect last season. He was flagged for seven penalties (one for unnecessary roughness, two for pass interference, one for roughing the passer, one for illegal use of hands, one for holding and one for illegal contact) and missed a team-high 18 tackles according to ProFootballFocus.com.
Still, the Packers will be relying on him to be the same player – and possibly better if an improved pass rush makes life easier for the secondary.
“You guys watch the games, you see it the same (as) we do. You see quarterbacks sitting in the pocket, getting off their first read, getting into the second read, maybe getting into the third read. That's hard,” Woodson said. “You've got to cover five, six seconds during the course of plays throughout the game, that's hard as a defense. We look forward to shoring that up this season.”
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