Ronnie Lott and Rod Woodson did it successfully at different points in their respective careers, and there’s nothing that leads us to believe that Charles Woodson couldn’t make the transition just as triumphantly.
But the Green Bay Packers are keeping Woodson at cornerback again in 2012.
Even if Pro Bowler Nick Collins is forced to retire due to a neck injury, the team refuses to make their former defensive player of the year a full-time safety.
Coach Mike McCarthy made it clear that he sees little to be gained from having Woodson lined up at safety 10 to 15 yards or more from the line of scrimmage either in one- or two-shell looks.
“I think the closer Charles is to the ball the more dangerous he is and more impact he has to the offense,” McCarthy said at the NFL combine. “He’s the most instinctive defensive player I’ve ever been around.”
Last season, Woodson participated in 988 regular-season plays, or 90.1% of the snaps. He probably played slot corner 70% to 75% of the time, outside corner 20% to 25% and safety for the rest.
Some opposing coaches and personnel men say the time is drawing near when the 35-year-old Woodson won’t be able to hold up covering wide receivers outside the numbers. But when matched against tight ends and wide receivers in the slot, Woodson covered so well in the final eight games that he didn’t allow a single completion for more than 20 yards.
Woodson is still one of the best all-around defensive playmakers in the game, but I fail to see how he wouldn’t be just as effective in traffic and the slot, or as a roaming safety. He’s physical enough to avoid being a liability when needed to make tackles, and his coverage skills would force teams to go outside against the likes of Tramon Williams and Sam Shields.
There seems to be a belief among fans that Woodson would have fewer opportunities to make plays at safety, but if anything the transition would free him up to get more creative. Both Lott and Rod Woodson were more dangerous in terms of forcing turnovers after they moved from corner to safety.
Not having Collins at safety was a huge detriment for Green Bay this season, and although there’s potential for Morgan Burnett to emerge, the team is deeper and more talented at corner than it is at safety.
Interestingly, elsewhere in the same division, the Vikings are mauling over their positional options with their own versatile corner who’ll also be 35 at the start of the 2012 season — Antoine Winfield.
“We’ve talked about [moving him to safety] a little bit,” Spielman said during a break in the NFL combine. “But we still feel that he has the quickness and effective style of play to be an effective [nickel] as well. Antoine has been a very smart player, been a great player for us since he’s come in, but also you have the age concerns a little bit and the durability concerns which is normal for a player of his age.”
The Packers and Vikings should be proactive about this. Get Woodson and Winfield off of No. 1 wideouts before they start getting burned. If they’re forced to react to such incidents, it could be too late. You know how this league works.
More on the transition from cornerback to safety from Matt Bowen of the National Football Post: Three reasons why CBs can struggle making the switch.