GREEN BAY – The question has been posed so many times – to head coach Mike McCarthy, to defensive coordinator Dom Capers, to safeties coach Darren Perry and to Charles Woodson himself – that when the topic was broached yet again on Tuesday, your first thought was that it would’ve been OK if the Lambeau Field construction crews had drowned out McCarthy’s answer with their incessant drilling.
But in the Green Bay Packers coach’s reply, there just might have been some breadcrumbs that will lead observers to where the field-tilting Woodson will be lining up this season.
And yes, it sounds like safety will be part of the equation.
When the question was asked after Tuesday’s final open-to-the-public organized team activity practice, McCarthy initially replied, “I don’t think it’s feasible to move Charles around as much as we have in the past.”
Then, in the next breath, he added, “To the fans and the people outside of the football world, you’re not going to see a lot of change. Charles is going to be close to the line of scrimmage. He’s going to also be playing in the secondary.
“He’s a playmaker. When you break down the offensive and defensive groups, you look for playmakers, role players and also people who are core players. Charles is clearly a playmaker (and) has been for us. He’s played nickel, dime, corner, safety for us. He’ll continue to do those things.”
So what does that all mean?
For starters, we’ll have a better handle on how Woodson will be used once he actually participates in a practice. Woodson hasn’t taken part in any of the three open OTAs so far this spring, and at a recent appearance at Miller Park to throw out the first pitch at a Milwaukee Brewers game, he indicated he wouldn’t practice at all during OTAs but would hit the field for the three-day mandatory minicamp, which kicks off next Tuesday.
But reading between the lines, it’s possible that the coaches intend to keep Woodson roaming around the field in their nickel and dime packages – lining up on the slot receiver, blitzing, etc. – but altering his role in the base 3-4 defense.
That could mean making the team’s “Corner Okie” package its base defense. When the Packers have employed “Corner Okie” during the past two seasons after injuries to Morgan Burnett (2010) and Nick Collins (2011), Woodson would move to safety, No. 3 cornerback Sam Shields would enter the game and take Woodson’s spot at cornerback opposite Tramon Williams, and fill-in safety Charlie Peprah would head to the bench.
“Charles will be doing a lot of things for us. We’ve got a lot of different personnel groups,” Capers said. “More so than anybody else, he plays all over the field. Up to this time, he’s played corner, he’s played nickel, he’s played dime, he’s played safety, he’s played linebacker. He’s played them all. I think that what we’ll do is we’ll see where he is and we’ll use him as a matchup guy, and that changes from week to week.”
Asked if that means a bigger role for Woodson, Capers’ response sounded similar to McCarthy’s.
“I don’t know if we can expand it a whole lot, you know?” Capers said. “Charles is a smart guy. Normally, that’s one of the things in game-planning – he’s a big factor in a game plan because we do use him a lot. We feel he’s a good blitzer. He’s a pretty good matchup on some of those hybrid tight end-type guys that he’s done a really good job over the three years of matching up with.”
While Woodson, the 2009 NFL defensive player of the year, remains a difference-maker on defense, having registered seven interceptions and two sacks last season, he’s not the shutdown corner he once was, and reducing the amount of time he spends on an island might make sense. When Woodson matched up against Carolina’s Steve Smith in Week 2 last season while Tramon Williams was sidelined with a shoulder injury, Woodson picked off rookie quarterback Cam Newton twice but also allowed Smith to put up huge numbers (six receptions, 156 yards).
Another hint came from Perry, who was asked if reporters were wasting their time with all of the Woodson-to-safety talk.
“I don’t think you’re wasting your breath on it,” Perry said. “Because with what he does – he’s been in my meeting room (with the safeties) some last year, and we’ve had our ‘Corner Okie’ package with him in (at safety) – if that’s our best group in terms of getting our best guys on the field, then I think that’s what we have do.
“I think at this point in Woodson’s career, I think he’s open to whatever’s for the good of the football team. And I think he realizes what we have at various positions and I think once things kind of shake out and we see what we’ve got going on, whatever personnel package we have – whether he’s at corner, whether he’s at safety – I think he’s going to be up for it. He’s a football player. And some of the things we’ve asked him to do already, he’s done that. It’s not going to be that big of a change.”
Indeed, when Woodson appeared on Green & Gold Today last month, he said he wanted to see how the team’s other cornerbacks looked before forming an opinion on whether he should move to safety full-time.
“I think it comes down to what the other guys are going to be able to do,” Woodson said then. “If one of those guys could take over that role and make the plays needed to be made at corner, and with us having Nick Collins being released there being a need for me to play safety, I’m not opposed to that.”
So far in OTAs, with Woodson not participating, the three cornerbacks in the No. 1 nickel defense have been Williams, Shields and Jarrett Bush. Rookie second-round pick Casey Hayward and 2011 fourth-round pick Davon House have been working with the No. 2 group.
If Woodson does make the move, Perry said he doesn’t think it’ll take him much time to get up to speed. While Woodson hasn’t been practicing, he’s been able to watch practice film on the team-issued iPads and has been around the facility throughout OTAs, despite not actually being on the field.
“He’s not going to take a lot of reps anyway. Woodson’s a guy where, when you think he’s not studying, he’s studying,” Perry said. “We’ve got these iPad playbooks now, so he can take those things with him, the practice video is on there, and I think he likes that. Wood, he likes being a little unique in his training and his studying, in terms of keeping to himself a little bit. And that’s kind of been his M.O throughout his whole career. And we’re certainly not going to change that.
“With that being said, he’ll probably know all the damn positions, because he’ll want to be able to come in and say, ‘You don’t have to tell me, Coach. I got that.’"
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.