Thursday, September 10, 2009

Charles Woodson is My Hero

There are a lot of great Packers, both today and in the storied annals of the history books. I have had many "heroes" over the last thirty years, from James Lofton and Johnnie Gray to Chuck Cecil and Sterling Sharpe. From Don Majkowski and Mark Chmura to Brett Favre and LeRoy Butler. From Donald Driver and Ahman Green to AJ Hawk and Greg Jennings.

But today, my hero is Charles Woodson.

Yes, he's a hero for many reasons. He's a shutdown corner and a turnover machine. He's a heavy hitter and a leader in the locker room. He's a high-profile player who came from the limelight of California to the nether regions of the American midwest, and despite his own misgivings, came to love it here.

But today, right now, he's my hero for this reason:

Should something happen to Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and backup Matt Flynn, veteran cornerback Charles Woodson says he's willing to play quarterback in a pinch this season.

Woodson insists he can do it, touting his ability to run out of the wildcat formation and throw a few tight -- if short -- spirals to his receivers.

Says Woodson: "I'm in the bullpen. I'm warming up. Absolutely."

Now, do I honestly expect to see number 21 lining up behind Jason Spitz anytime soon? For that matter, do I really want to see it at all, given the circumstances that would have to occur to reach that point? Of course not.

It's not the point. The point is that he is ready and willing to apply his talents wherever they need to be best served. And this isn't the first time he's offered.

Last season, he spent several games lined up at safety, given the emergence of Tramon Williams at cornerback in the stead of injured Al Harris. It wasn't a successful experiment, but it was one that gave us a pretty solid conclusion: Charles Woodson is such a good cornerback, he makes everyone around him better (including the other cornerback). In fact, he probably should stay there.

You see, I've mentioned often over the years my concern over what I've interpreted as the Packers' valuing of versatility over top-notch talent. Along the offensive line, especially, we've often eschewed bringing in solid talent that you could pencil in at one position, instead bringing in guys that can swing back and forth along the line. And swing they did.

Versatility isn't a bad thing. In fact, you love to see it in your backups, who may have to fill in for your starting tackle one week, and perhaps your starting center the next. But you don't necessarily want your starters to all be "jacks-of-all-trades"'d like to have them be the solid guy at their position. Like Chad Clifton or Mike Wahle.

Like Charles Woodson.

That philosophy of keeping versatile guys over talent has crept into my fears more this training camp, when versatile Jason Spitz was awarded the starting center job over career center Scott Wells (who had as solid a training camp as anyone). It was no secret that the Packers were shopping Wells around and likely had Spitz penciled in before the season started.

The final cutdown dates also concerned me, as players we would expect to contribute on offense or defense were released in favor of players who had an aptitude for special teams. The release of a player like Anthony Smith in favor of special teams gunner Derrick Martin was one example of preferring a versatile player over a guy who would likely contribute more on defense. While keeping Quinn Johnson as a project player isn't a bad idea, also keeping two special teams ace players like John Kuhn and Korey Hall seemed like a luxury, when you might have been able to keep another running back, or afford to keep a third quarterback.

But the one prime example was keeping Brett Swain over Ruvell Martin. Swain proved his versatility in training camp by playing special teams, and even lining up as a defensive back when injuries mounted. And there's nothing wrong with that...he's the fifth wide receiver and you expect that from a backup. But, Martin was also our emergency quarterback, and in keeping three fullbacks over three quarterbacks, the Packers are placing themselves at risk for having a TJ Rubely situation, without even having a TJ Rubely to go to.

Compounding that problem is that our emergency quarterback was Ruvell Martin. So the Packers went from having three and a half quarterbacks to just two.

So, which "versatile" player will the Packers turn to in that situation? I have no idea, but the fact that Woodson came forward and offered, happily, to take on that role is fantastic. You see, Woodson is the farthest thing from a player who is valued because of his versatility. He doesn't need to be versatile, because he is, simply put, the best at his position. He's a Heisman talent, an All-Pro player who is the definition of "cornerback".

He doesn't need to move. He's the one other players are supposed to move around.

But this All-Pro has offered twice to help out in other positions, last year at safety. The idea that Woodson is taking some time during practice to take snaps and getting his timing down in a "Wildcat" formation is fantastic.

So, the question must be asked....if we occasionally shed talent for versatility, what does it mean when your most talented player shows that he can be the best in the NFL at his position, and still be able (and willing) to be versatile?

Probably a bad example, but the Packers had a shot at Steve Hutchinson back in 2006. Now, as overpriced as he was, the fact is that he would have cemented one guard position...period. The Packers wisely chose not to invest the money, and instead invested in three offensive linemen who had versatility.

The point is, however, that Hutchinson would have held one spot solidly, like Woodson, and the Offensive Line Shuffle that happened for the next three years wouldn't have been such an issue.

It's not my goal to make this into a "free agents are better than draft picks" argument. But, after years of watching established talent pass by in order to keep flexibility, it is great to see one of our most talented players show that the two traits are not mutually exclusive.

Let's hope this is a sign of a two-way street: if our most talented, positionally dug-in player can demonstrate such flexibility, let's hope that our versatile players can find a position, dig in, and dominate at it.


Franklin Hillside said...

It's because he's an alien. I'm 94.7% convinced.

PackersRS said...

You know, once, Charles Woodson threw a pass to Charles Woodson, with Charles Woodson covering. Charles Woodson made both the one hand grab for the touchdown, and the back-of-the-head interception return for the touchdown. Oh wait, that was Greg Jennings...

Franklin Hillside said...

Pffft...Greg Jennings watched in awe, while Chuck Norris wept with joy.

PackersRS said...

Sir, are you really sugesting than Chuck (the important one, Woodson) could beat Gregorious in a fight? That's ridiculous.

Franklin Hillside said...


I think that if Charles Woodson, Greg Jennings, and Chuck Norris met on the field of battle it would be the biggest tie the universe has ever seen. It would end with the three having beers in the single coolest nightclub anyone has ever the VIP section of course.