Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson is showing no lingering signs of the broken collarbone that knocked him out of Super Bowl XLV in February. / Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette
When asked how Charles Woodson has looked early in training camp, not quite six months removed from a broken collarbone in the Super Bowl, Ryan Pickett’s eyes flashed with realization.
“I forgot he got injured,” the Green Bay Packers’ defensive end said. “He looked good, the same. I forgot all about the injury.”
Another teammate, safety Nick Collins, saw Woodson fall on his shoulder in Monday night’s first padded practice and bounce to his feet.
“That was a great sign,” Collins said. “Just getting him healthy and ready to go.”
The early signs after three days of practice, including one in pads, are that Woodson at age 34 looks fine after the broken collarbone late in the first half of the Super Bowl knocked him from the game. He appears to be practicing full time and not having his snaps limited by anything other than being in his 30s, similar to the past couple of years
The recovery was long — Woodson wouldn’t say when he was able to move from rehabilitation to regular workouts other than, “It took a while to heal” — but the injury did not require surgery.
“Feel great,” Woodson said Wednesday. “I couldn’t feel any better.”
Woodson’s recovery from serious injury is one of several important developments in the Packers’ quest to repeat as Super Bowl champs, because he remains one of their difference makers on defense and is as highly respected a player as there is in the locker room.
Almost all of Woodson’s playmaking comes when he’s lined up as the slot cornerback, which is essentially a linebacker, in the Packers’ nickel defense. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers favors the nickel defense as his best personnel grouping and played it on about two-thirds of the defensive snaps last season, often on downs when many teams would have used their base personnel.
From that slot position, which is closer to the ball than he’d be as an outside corner, Woodson creates confusion for quarterbacks and offensive lines. Because of his instincts, experience and reactions, he’s in position to blitz or stay in coverage, and also make tackles in the run game. He can rush or fake rush, or jump a pass route in coverage, or be in position for stripping the ball from behind when tackling any receiver in the middle of the field after the catch.
His impact shows in the numbers.
Since Woodson came to the Packers in 2006, his 48 turnover plays (interceptions, fumbles forced and fumbles recovered) leads the NFL over that time, ahead of Ed Reed’s 46. Over that time, Woodson also is third in interceptions with 30, behind only Asante Samuel (36) and Reed (32). His eight returns for touchdowns leads the league and is twice as many as the next players on the list.
In two seasons as the slot corner in Capers’ nickel defense, Woodson’s 21 turnovers plays (11 interceptions, nine fumbles forced and one fumble recovered) also leads the league.
“Just being a football player, having great instincts, timing up things,” Collins said of Woodson’s playmaking.
Woodson’s ability to recover from his injury was no small matter, in part because of his age. Though it was a different and more severe injury, former Packers standout LeRoy Butler’s career as an NFL safety ended at age 33 when he broke his shoulder blade.
Woodson objected when asked about his age and injury — “I’m not old,” he said — but when reminded that for a football player he is, responded: “Maybe for the average guy. But I’m not old.”
In his first session with reporters since training camp began, Woodson said that while the Packers lost a key defensive player in the offseason in defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins, they showed last year with their long injured-reserve list that they can win despite such personnel losses. He also suggested that a motivation for repeating as Super Bowl champs is an elevated status in NFL history.
“It’s hard to win a Super Bowl, even harder to win two,” he said. “So I think if you really want to be considered a great, great team, then you win two, you win back to back. We’re going to work hard to try to make sure that happens.”