Those expecting a clearer picture on the assumed-to-be-evolving role of Charles Woodson likely didn’t get their answer from the start of Packers minicamp Tuesday.
The change on-field was minimal and the comments afterwards were as vague as vague comes.
Woodson returned to the practice field Tuesday after missing all of the team’s organized team activities (OTAs) last month. He lined up solely in the nickel and dime—mostly staying inside against the slot receiver, like he has for several years—but took no snaps at safety.
Head coach Mike McCarthy turned to “coach speak” to dodge any questions about where Woodson may play in the Packers’ defense in 2012.
“Charles’ role on our football team may change 6-8 percent from where he played in the past. I don’t want to get too detailed schematically because that’s something we should watch and see and let our opponents see,” McCarthy said post practice. “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.”
Many have speculated that Woodson would eventually make the transition to safety in Dom Capers’ 3-4 defense, much like Rod Woodson did so successfully towards the end of his Hall of Fame career. The release of former Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins after a career-altering neck injury last season only opened the door further for the 35-year-old Woodson to make the full-time switch.
The depth at the cornerback position appears ready now to take on Woodson’s move to safety, too.
The Packers have spent two middle-round draft picks (2011 fourth-rounder Davon House and 2012 second-rounder Casey Hayward) on the cornerback position, and the team re-signed veteran Jarrett Bush this offseason. Third-year cornerback Sam Shields is also expected to take a step forward with a full offseason.
No. 1 cornerback Tramon Williams is slowly but surely getting back to 100 percent after suffering nerve damage in his shoulder last season.
There is plenty of talent—especially if House, Hayward and Shields can contribute—for the Packers to handle Woodson making a move to the back of the secondary, if the team so chooses.
But instead of Woodson making that total conversion from cornerback to safety, it appears the Packers are content with continuing to move their veteran leader around the defense. That should continue to include snaps at safety, especially in the “Corner Okie” defense. In that look, Woodson becomes one of the defense’s safeties and typically plays closer to the line of scrimmage.
In essence, there’s little early reason to expect Woodson’s role to change considerably ahead of the 2012 season.
“It’s just about the preparation throughout the week and getting ready — knowing what teams are trying to do,” Woodson told local reporters after Tuesday’s mini-camp. ”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 the personnel — who they have in the game, where they are on the field, their side of the 50, our side of the 50. It’s not as much about the receiver anymore as it is about the team we’re playing.”
Woodson also said that he’s played his share of safety while in Green Bay, so there’s no need to look into his absence from that position Tuesday.
If Woodson isn’t the immediate answer to Collins’ departure at safety, the Packers will turn to a veteran in Charlie Peprah or youngsters M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian.
Attempting to pinpoint exactly where Woodson will play next season after just one minicamp showing is likely a practice in futility. Chances are that the veteran will continue to be a moving chess piece for Capers next season.
But at the very least, a full time switch to safety appears to be unlikely. Woodson will continue to play wherever Capers needs him from week-to-week.
“I just continue to do the things I’ve done in the past. I play a little bit here, a little bit there, where I’m needed each week. Just try to make this team better,” Woodson said. “I haven’t been with the team. The easiest thing for me to do was to play some nickel, play some dime, take those reps. Right now, just piecing it together; kind of ease into it a little bit.”