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CBs Woodson, Harris Take Liking To New Defense

As the Packers began making the transition to the new 3-4 defense in the offseason, one of the lingering questions was whether cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Al Harris - known for their press, man-to-man, bump-and-run coverage in three years as the starting tandem in Green Bay - could effectively adjust to playing more zone and read-and-react coverage.

Just two days into training camp, the veteran duo is doing its best to lay those questions to rest.

Woodson had his first interception of camp during Sunday morning's practice, stepping in front of Donald Driver on a ball down the middle of the field and taking off on what could have been a big return.

Meanwhile, Harris, who had a nice pass deflection reaching around Driver to knock the ball down during the first practice on Saturday, worked a perfect front-back zone coverage with safety Nick Collins on Sunday. With receiver Brett Swain going hard down the left sideline and then stopping on a comeback route, Harris sat in the front zone to force quarterback Aaron Rodgers to throw the ball over him. Collins then zipped over to the sideline from his safety spot to get a piece of the ball as Swain jumped up to try to haul it in. In fact, had Rodgers' throw not been so pinpoint itself, the defense very well may have intercepted that one, too.

"I know there's been a lot of questions about our personnel, and do we have the right people to fit the defense, but I think we do," said Woodson after practice on Sunday, his first public comments since Dom Capers was hired to implement the new 3-4 scheme. "We have a lot of great athletes on this team and I think we have a lot of guys that can adjust to whatever situation, adjust to whatever defense. So I feel good about our chances with the defense."

The cornerbacks' responsibilities in the new scheme are more varied than they've been in the past. In addition to playing man or zone in the defensive backfield, they could also be called upon to blitz, something they did very rarely in the 4-3 scheme.

Woodson and Harris, who were both selected for the Pro Bowl last season, like the lack of predictability that brings to their jobs and the defense as a whole, and the more the new terminology and communication sink in, the more opportunities there could be for big plays.

"This defense gives us a great chance to give the offense different looks, move around a little bit, just show them different things, keep them off-balance," Woodson said. "It's a defense you can have a lot of fun in.

"Of course there is a lot to it. You definitely have to be on your P's and Q's as far as making your calls and making sure everybody's on the same page, but when everything is clicking, it's a very, very fun defense."

Harris, who has been a press, man-to-man corner for the bulk of his 12-year career, probably has a bigger adjustment to the scheme than Woodson. But he emphasized on Sunday that he likes the new scheme and he's "all-in" and not resistant to the change, as some had suggested.

"It's a nice package," Harris said. "Schemes don't win games, players win games. We have the players to play this scheme. It's nice.

"There's a lot more opportunities, being that a lot of the times we see the ball thrown as opposed to previous with our backs to the quarterback. So a lot of times we see the ball thrown, and you have a better chance of getting your hands on a ball."

Receiver Greg Jennings, who noted that at times the offense is struggling to find any rhythm against the numerous blitz packages the defense is throwing at it during team drills, said he sees the way the cornerbacks are mixing up their coverages and creating additional challenges that way as well.

Jennings thinks the variety will help make Harris a more well-rounded cornerback, while it will probably make Woodson - who in three seasons in Green Bay has 19 interceptions, including four returned for touchdowns - even more dangerous.

"It's really working to his advantage because it's allowing him to read the formations a little bit more, whereas when he had to press a lot, he couldn't really read as much as he wanted to," Jennings said. "He had to pick and choose what he wanted to read.

"Charles is a unique corner, very smart, very savvy. Anything you throw at him he's going to catch it, he's going to learn it and make it his own. That's what makes him unique. That's what makes him great."

Woodson admitted to having his "head spin" a little bit in the spring when first trying to learn the new defense, but the commitment from the players in the offseason has helped make the transition smooth thus far.

{sportsad300}Collins did miss most of the offseason program because of a combination of personal and contract issues, but Woodson doesn't feel he fell behind at all.

"Nick is one of the smarter guys on this team, so I'm not concerned with him picking up the defense or being able to run the defense and make the calls or that type of thing," Woodson said. "I know he's ready to go."

So are all the defensive backs in their annual training camp competition for interceptions. Nickelback Tramon Williams got the cornerbacks' first one in team work during the opening practice on Saturday, and the battle promises to be fierce all the way through.

The new defense and the pressure it can create on offenses only has the defensive backs fired up to see how many they can tally.

"There's so many opportunities, you can't even count them," Woodson said. "This is a defense where you just never know where the pressure is coming from. It could be me, it could be linebackers, it could be three linemen, no linemen, whatever.

"It is a lot of different things we're going to do out there, and there will be definitely opportunities for me, Al, Tramon and whoever else."

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