Woodson Enjoys Getting His Chances

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Coming out of the University of Michigan a decade ago as the Heisman Trophy winner, cornerback Charles Woodson quickly made a name for himself in the NFL.

Maybe too good a name.

A first-round draft pick by the Oakland Raiders in 1998, Woodson had five interceptions as a rookie, returning one for a touchdown. He posted 21 pass break-ups and landed a Pro Bowl berth.

The early success earned him a reputation as a defensive back to stay away from, and even though he was selected to the Pro Bowl the next three seasons as well, his big-play stats were in decline.

In fact, over the next seven seasons, Woodson never matched his rookie numbers of five interceptions and 21 passes defensed. He had just one interception in five of those seven years, and his pass break-ups didn't top 15 in any single year.

Though injuries played a part, forcing him to miss 22 games from 2002-05, Woodson wasn't having the impact, statistically at least, many expected. Offenses preferred avoiding him to challenging him.

So what was it like for Woodson, upon coming to Green Bay as a free agent in 2006, to see passes coming his way again, allowing him to post an NFC-best eight interceptions and a team-high 26 passes defensed, both career highs?

"Fun," Woodson said, speaking with reporters at his locker after a week of OTA workouts in Green Bay.

"I hadn't had the opportunity to make those kind of plays. There were seasons I had in Oakland where if I'd have gotten the type of balls I had last year, I'd have been at eight, nine picks. But I didn't have those opportunities.

"Last year, being able to break on balls and just being able to use my skills out there on the field, it's just a lot of fun for me. Making plays is what we want to do in the back end, get the ball back for the offense, and I was able to do some of that last year."

As he did at the time, Woodson once again credited his standout numbers to playing opposite fellow cornerback Al Harris, who has a reputation now similar to the one Woodson developed earlier in his career.

While Harris often drew the assignment of the opponent's toughest receiver, offenses shied away from their top pass-catcher to challenge Woodson instead, and they paid for it.

After a slow start by the entire defense, Woodson notched his eight interceptions over the season's final 11 games. His first one, at Miami, he returned for his first touchdown since his second season, in 1999. He had two interceptions in a game for just the second time in his career, at Seattle on Nov. 27, which began a stretch of at least one pick in five of the last six games.

All the action made Woodson excited to take the field each week, despite having to nurse knee and shoulder injuries throughout much of the season.

"It was funny because halfway through the season, I was thinking, 'Man, I'm going to get a pick this week,'" Woodson said. "Whereas in the past, I would play a game and I didn't know if I would get a ball. I was out there making tackles but it never translated into interceptions.

"Last year, every week I felt like I was going to get a pick. I said it all last year, it's a direct result of playing opposite of Al. I just look forward to seeing what happens this year."

{sportsad300}So do the Packers, particularly now that Woodson is fully healthy. Before coming to Green Bay for a week of OTAs, Woodson was in Houston at his annual offseason training site. He'll return there for several weeks of intense workouts to continue getting his body ready for training camp.

Woodson said his workouts in Houston last 2 to 2 1/2 hours, and he's at it daily and occasionally twice a day. Head Coach Mike McCarthy said on Thursday he was impressed with the shape Woodson is in, and Woodson said he plans to lose another eight pounds before returning to Green Bay for camp.

"I'm put back together," Woodson said of the injuries from last year. "Everything is fine. I rehabbed the shoulder. The knee really was fine by the time the end of the season came up last year. But the shoulder is good, everything is working, and I'm ready to go."

Woodson expects the entire defense to be ready as well, looking to avoid the sluggish start to 2006 and build on the final month, when the unit was playing as well as any in the league. And when Woodson was playing, or getting the chance to play, perhaps as well as at any point in his career.

"You just hope it can carry over," he said. "You never know from one season to the next what's going to happen. On our side of the ball, we've got pretty much everybody back, the same scheme. So there's really no excuse for us not to be successful on defense."

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