CHICAGO — The season-ending neck injury sustained last week by Green Bay Packers safety Nick Collins brought on an array of questions.
Would the team add a veteran to start?
Would the pass defense suffer?
Would defensive coordinator Dom Capers tweak the scheme without a three-time Pro Bowler who has 17 interceptions in the last three seasons?
So far the answers would be: no, not much and kind of.
The Packers broke out their “Corner Okie” as the base defensive package in the 27-17 win in Chicago on Sunday. The call moved Charles Woodson to safety from cornerback and brought Sam Shields in as the No. 2 corner. Charlie Peprah entered the game at safety when Woodson returned to cornerback in the nickel package.
“Your mentality has to change,” Woodson said. “You have to switch up from corner to safety back to corner to whatever else you’re playing.
“I have safety responsibilities. I may have to fill the B gap, I may have to contain, I may have to take the tight end on the pass play. It just depends on the way the play develops and what I have to do.”
The move to the back end isn’t new. The package has been installed for several years and Woodson has played some safety before. Still, the role is much different than Woodson's normal spot near the line of scrimmage. The defense plays nickel about 60 percent of the time and Woodson is positioned in the slot and often used as an extra blitzer. His athleticism gives Capers a variety of options instead of Woodson solely being on the outside chasing receivers.
There’s also a lot more action near the line than deep at safety.
“I didn’t get bored, but I’m usually up near the line,” Woodson said. “Those guys up front did such a great job, the ball never got to me.
“I didn’t really have to get too dirty today.”
The Packers played mostly nickel in the second half when the Bears used three-receiver sets in an attempt to rally. Woodson finished with just three tackles and was not involved in a turnover after he had two interceptions and a fumble recovery last week against the Panthers.
The Packers could use the formation more in the future on run downs, against two-receiver sets and dangerous tight ends.
“It’s up to Dom,” Peprah said. “It just depends on the matchups he likes. And whatever he’s cooking up in the lab. If he sees fit to go with it, we’ll go with it.
“We’ve done it for the past couple years. We put it in a while ago to match up Wood on tight ends and stuff like that, good receiving tight ends and things. It’s Dom’s call whenever he wants to run that package for whatever reason. He’s like a mad scientist. We just run the defense he calls.”
There are no changes in communication or the calls in the package with Woodson at safety. It’s simply a personnel change.
But it’s not exactly simple for the individual, who must have a mastery of the defense and know the responsibilities for both positions.
“It’s definitely hard,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “You have to have a lot of smarts. You can get those positions confused sometimes. You may go back at safety and think you’re playing a corner call. It takes a lot of focus to do that and we know Charles has that focus to do it.
“Obviously, he’s been doing it for years now. He’s seen it all and done it all.”