Willing Woodson Staying at Safety
Next game: Sunday, November 7th vs. Houston
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) -- The second he saw Carolina Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme heave the ball deep down the middle of the field, Green Bay Packers secondary coach Kurt Schottenheimer knew what was coming: Charles Woodson was going to come down with the ball.
And the Packers were going to hold on to win a close game.
"When the ball left the quarterback's hands, I thought the game was over," Schottenheimer said. "There was no doubt in my mind."
On film, Schottenheimer saw Woodson let up slightly, then absorb a small body bump from receiver Steve Smith that put him off balance. Smith came down with the ball on the 1-yard line, and the Panthers scored what would become the game-winning touchdown on the next play.
Woodson took the blame for a play he should have made.
"I did get bumped off a little bit, but I should've made the play," Woodson said. "Maybe I could've got up sooner or whatever. He shouldn't have made that catch, but he did and they won the game."
Still, Packers coaches consider Woodson's unexpected move to safety for Sunday's game a success story.
Facing injuries to starting strong safety Atari Bigby and backup Aaron Rouse -- and still licking their wounds from a blowout loss to a pass-happy New Orleans team just six days earlier -- the Packers had Woodson switch positions. And given the injury situation, he'll probably stay there for Sunday's game against Houston at Lambeau Field.
Given the far more glamorous nature of the cornerback position, some star players might resist moving to safety -- especially when they're putting together a potentially Pro Bowl-worthy season, as Woodson is.
But that wasn't the case with Woodson, who has successfully shed the me-first reputation he carried with him when he left Oakland after the 2005 season.
"Charles Woodson has one very, very strong motivation, and that is to win," Schottenheimer said.
Under ideal circumstances, Woodson is more valuable to the Packers as a cornerback.
"He's having a Pro Bowl year," Schottenheimer said. "He's had three Pro Bowl years in a row in my opinion. So yeah, you take a pretty good player out of the corner position. But again, the objective there is, let's get healthy players on the field, let's get the best athletes on the field. And he did a heck of a job."
By moving, Woodson helped the Packers avoid putting a banged-up Bigby or Rouse on the field. The move also allowed the Packers to get their three best coverage corners on the field all the time: Woodson, Al Harris and Tramon Williams, who was promoted from nickel cornerback.
"It was initiated with the medical situation of the safeties, and the second part of it was getting your best players on the field," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "Tramon Williams has played very well throughout the season, and the opportunity to have him in our base defense was something we felt would benefit us as we move forward. I thought Charles played well at the safety position. I think he is extraordinary when he is around the football."
Williams praised Woodson for being unselfish.
"That's a good move by a great teammate," Williams said.
Woodson said he's comfortable at safety, a position he played occasionally in Oakland.
"I know how to play the position," Woodson said. "I got a little work this (past) week. I just tried to get different reads down and that type of thing. I was definitely ready."
Schottenheimer said Woodson's awareness and intelligence allowed him to make a fairly seamless last-minute position change.
"He understands football, he's very, very intelligent and he was able to put himself in a good position, for the most part, on a consistent basis," Schottenheimer said.
True, Woodson did fall short on the big play to Smith near the end of the game. But he also made a big play that could have turned the game in the Packers' favor much earlier.
With Carolina facing third-and-1 at the Green Bay 46-yard line, Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart got past an arm tackle attempt by middle linebacker A.J. Hawk and squirted free into the secondary.
Woodson didn't give up on the play, chasing down Stewart from behind and stripping the ball -- only to see a Panthers player pounce on the ball to set up first-and-goal at the 2-yard line. Delhomme would score on a bootleg three plays later, giving the Panthers a 14-3 lead.
Woodson's willingness to move to safety was impressive. But not as impressive as his ability to pull it off on short notice.
"Charles is not afraid of any challenge, that's for sure," Schottenheimer said. "So he was willing to take it on head-on."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)