Charles Woodson is being listed as a safety for the third consecutive season, but this is the first season in which he’ll actually play the position in a traditional sense.
When he made the transition to the back of the secondary in 2012 with the Green Bay Packers, he was a safety in name only. Green Bay still used him to cover receivers in the slot, on the perimeter and on underneath routes. He was a cornerback who just happened to line up at safety.
Even last year, when the Oakland Raiders tried to use him in a traditional single-safety-deep role, he continued to play the position as if he were a cornerback. He’d identify plays and routes before they happened, then react as if he were a cornerback. The results weren’t always positive.
But this season the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year has accepted that he’s now a true safety, which means he has to be more patient, adjust his angles and not attempt to jump a route as if he were the corner in coverage. He’s also enjoying learning a “new” position from first-year assistant secondary coach Marcus Robertson, who spent 12 years in the league as a safety, and was a two-time All-Pro.
“It’s a big difference having him around -- big difference,” Woodson said. “It’s not just that he played the position; he knows the position. He knows the position better than I could imagine. That’s what’s been great for me.”
In 2013, Woodson relied on his athleticism. So supremely confident in his physical abilities, he tried to make plays even when his role wouldn’t allow it. “I’m an athlete, so I figured that if they moved me to safety, I’m just going to play safety. And I did. I had 97 tackles and two sacks.”
But now he’s adding the mental to go with the physical, and he sees no ceiling. A defensive back’s best friend is a pass rush, and the Raiders upgraded theirs with the additions of Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley and Khalil Mack. They’ve also improved their talent at cornerback by signing experienced winners in Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown.
“I’m still adjusting to it,” Woodson said. “The biggest thing is that I’m still breaking (on passes) as if I’m a corner. I’m back there deep and anything the quarterback does, I’m breaking on it. Well, there’s no way I can get up there and make a play. So I’m learning patience. It’s actually fun because I’m learning.”