Wednesday, December 3, 2008

TundraFutureVision: Woodson Starts at Safety

Well, it seems not so long ago that I made the call for Al Harris to be moved back to safety. I didn't have a lot of faith in our stable of strong-safety-types we had back there, and thought that Harris was losing a step at cornerback. Long before Plaxico Burress was shooting himself in the leg, he sent the message that Harris might be slowing down.

Having a savvy, free-safety type in our backfield was a plus, I thought, and Harris might be just the guy to do it.

Harris isn’t blessed with blazing speed, but has always compensated with smarts and effort. But every player hits that fateful season when they lose a step, and in Freeman’s case, that step was simply too much for him to make up with effort. Freeman’s career in Green Bay ended with a whimper because he simply couldn’t get from point A to point B fast enough to use his smarts and skills.

Harris has compensated for his lack of speed by excelling at bump coverage, but an athletic receiver like Burress showed us a glimpse of what is possibly the near future, and when a cornerback can’t keep up with a receiver, his career is effectively over.

This is nothing against Nick Collins, who has struggled to replicate his rookie season success, or Atari Bigby, who generated excitement with his big hits and excellent playoff game against Seattle. But, the point still stands that both players struggle both in coverage and haven’t been able to run the defense like a quarterback.

But, you ask, it was Woodson who started at safety last week, not Harris. I further commented after the same article:

Actually, my preference would be to move Woodson to safety, but I think that Harris is going to be the bigger liability sooner as he is older. Who knows.

Once again, though, we would still need a solid corner in replacement for either.

Now, taking all that in, as I sat in the stands on Sunday, I was standing with my jaw hanging down to my Packer belt buckle when I saw Woodson making that start at safety. I didn't expect it, and I must admit I've been lapsing in keeping up on the latest news.

Woodson did a nice job that day...despite Jake Delhomme's huge pass plays to Steve Smith. We should expect that Woodson would have some growing pains at a position that he hasn't been working at since the offseason, and in retrospect, its almost too bad that he didn't.

Woodson admirably took blame for that late long pass to Steve Smith that sealed the game up for the Panthers, a play in which a late bump by Smith upset Woodson's ability to play the ball. But, as I said, you have to expect when you make such a mid-season move, there's bound to be mistakes as Woodson learns his new role.

The solid corner question, however, seems to have been answered in Tramon Williams, who still makes errors, but is a young guy that seems like an up-and-comer. Just last week, I commented that there were those who felt he was worthy of a starting job now. I didn't think he'd actually get it, but there are factors that helped make that happen other than his fine play filling in for Al Harris.

The subpar play of the tandem of Rouse, Bigby, and Peprah have to be considered the weak point of a pass defense that has been awfully good this season. But, Drew Brees attacked that safety spot in the big win over the Packers two Monday nights ago, exposing a position beset by average players playing hurt.

The sudden move of Woodson was sudden, surprising, and indicative of the old McCarthyism we remember from his first year: willing to move players and schemes around to compensate for weaknesses.

Is that what it was: a carefully measured and calculated strategy to compensate for an ongoing weakness? Or, was it a move made by a coach and defensive coordinator coming under heavy pressure to fix a defense that has been, at best, inconsistent?

Nearing the end of the Favre debacle this summer, McCarthy made a very interesting statement when asked if he was worried about a decline in the play at the quarterback position. He said that this team was built for and predicated on the defense. In retrospect, that paraphrased quote seems rather ironic, since the quarterback play has been a model of efficiency and the defense has been bordering on abysmal this year.

If that's the case, and we are starting to move around our cornerstones of this defense to compensate for glaring weaknesses, its a poor reflection on the faith that was placed on it and defensive coordinator Bob Sanders.

I'm happy to see that we have a solid player in the free safety spot, and that we have a reserve corner capable of playing a solid job in his stead.

Even though Bigby, Rouse, and Peprah have all been tagged with the injury bug this year, I don't know if any of them can compliment Nick Collins as well as a well-prepared Charles Woodson can. That's the good news.

And the bad news.

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