GREEN BAY – The game was sweeping the Ray Nitschke Field sideline Tuesday morning, throughout every team period and personnel grouping.
Because the Green Bay Packers veteran cornerback had not participated in organized team activity practices, Tuesday’s opening day of the club’s mandatory minicamp marked the first time Woodson had actually set foot on the practice field. And given how much of the offseason has been spent on speculating whether he would move to safety, his every move during 11-on-11 drills Tuesday was charted, dissected and discussed.
As it turned out, Woodson did not work at all with the No. 1 defense in its base “Okie” package, as the cornerbacks were Tramon Williams and Jarrett Bush (with some Sam Shields mixed in) and the safeties were M.D. Jennings and rookie Jerron McMillian (with Morgan Burnett and Charlie Peprah each sidelined with minor injuries). In the nickel and dime defenses, Woodson worked mostly in his customary spot covering the slot receiver, although he did do some linebacker-like roaming around in dime alignments, which the Packers ran an unusually high number of times Tuesday.
So what conclusions were to be drawn from where Woodson lined up?
“Not a whole lot,” Woodson replied as a throng of reporters surrounded his locker in the back corner of the room. “I haven't been out there with the team doing football things, so the easiest thing for me to do today was to get in at nickel and play some dime and take those reps. As we move along, of course I'll do more. But right now we're just piecing it together. You don't want to go out there and pull something or strain something, so I'm kind of easing into it.”
Asked if the fact that he didn’t take a single snap at the outside cornerback position might signify a move to safety, Woodson replied: “No, it's not signifying anything. Like I said, we're just easing into it. I’ve played a great deal of safety already since I've been here, and whether or not I play some this year, I don't think it will be any different from what I've done in the past.”
The problem with easing into it, of course, is that it doesn’t really answer where Woodson will line up once training camp opens on July 26 or where he’ll line up in the Sept. 9 regular-season opener against the San Francisco 49ers. And coach Mike McCarthy’s attempt to clarify Woodson’s role only made things more confusing.
While McCarthy suggested that Woodson might be used differently this season – a week after saying following an OTA practice that the team wouldn’t move him around as much as in previous years – he wouldn’t delve into specifics.
"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. "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."
McCarthy said the the 35-year-old Woodson "absolutely" is still an every-down player, and when it was suggested that 6 to 8 percent wouldn’t constitute a move to safety, McCarthy replied, “Maybe you’ve got to look at the numbers a little closer. Maybe 10. I might be off 3 percent.” Given how infrequently the Packers played their base defense last year, it’s certainly still possible that Woodson will be playing a true safety position the base defense, as he has in the past in the team’s “Corner Okie” package.
"Charles has been one of those guys since I've been here that week to week, his role changes," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "I don't think it'll change a whole lot. There's a lot of talk about safety and that type of thing. Well, we played an awful lot of 'Corner Okie' -- and all ‘Corner Okie’ is is him going in and playing safety."
According to cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt, Woodson reported for the mandatory minicamp at his playing weight, something he hasn’t done in recent years. Whitt also said that concerns about Woodson slipping as a cover corner are unfounded.
“Last year … we didn’t play good as a group, but it wasn’t because of Wood,” 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 biggest worry in the defensive backfield, though, is at safety after Collins’ release following a career-threatening neck injury suffered last September. It was Collins’ injury and departure that began fueling the Woodson-to-safety speculation that has been rampant all offseason.
And if Woodson doesn’t move to safety, Peprah, McMillian, Jennings and Anthony Levine are all candidates.
"Nick was one of that guys that's really irreplaceable in what he was able to do for this defense," Woodson said. "From a friend standpoint, it hurts even more because we were friends first. As far as a football aspect, he was a guy that could change the game. If you look across the league at safeties, he's easily in the top three in the entire NFL. To lose a playmaker, a guy with great speed, a guy that's physical and knew the game of football, it hurts a great deal not having him out there on the field and helping us on Sundays."
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.