NAPA, Calif. — Charles Woodson describes himself as one of the “old-heads” now peppered throughout the Oakland Raiders roster.
But in this respect, the NFL’s elder among active defensive players may as well be a 37-year-old rookie.
You see, Woodson has played at free safety the past three years since converting from cornerback.
Woodson, though, says he is ready to enter his first season actually playing the position.
There is a big difference between the two. Woodson has learned that from Marcus Robertson, Oakland’s new assistant defensive backs coach and a former NFL safety himself.
“When I moved to safety a couple of years ago, I was really playing the position as an athlete,” Woodson said after a recent Raiders training camp practice. “I was just going back there and doing it because I can play football and for the most part put myself in the right position. But what Marcus is doing is molding me into a safety and allowing me to see the game from the middle of the field and understanding angles from that position.
“I’m loving it because I’m growing. If you’re not growing in this game, you’re not getting better. I plan on getting better.”
So do the Raiders.
Desperate for a quick fix amid pressure for more wins from team owner Mark Davis, Oakland made a slew of veteran acquisitions trying to improve upon consecutive 4-12 seasons. The Raiders also re-signed Woodson, who notched a career-high 97 tackles for Oakland in 2013 after being left to dangle on the free-agent market following his departure from Green Bay.
The disrespect Woodson felt last year from teams who thought he was over the hill is the type of emotion the Raiders hope other castoffs like quarterback Matt Schaub, running back Maurice Jones-Drew and defensive end LaMarr Woodley feed on as motivation for strong 2014 comeback seasons. Woodson also welcomes more veteran voices in the locker room besides his own.
“You talk about it across the league — bringing in guys who have been in this league that have something to offer to other guys on the team, especially the young guys,” Woodson said. “I would say it’s been refreshing because it’s only going to make us grow.”
Robertson told FOX Sports that he was initially a “little apprehensive” about coaching Woodson because the 17-year veteran has accomplished so much during a Hall of Fame-worthy career. Robertson, though, is impressed at how hungry Woodson is to hone his safety techniques.
A wiser Woodson could result in more big plays. He has only two interceptions the past two years after posting 54 through his first 14 seasons, eight of which ended in Pro Bowl appearances.
“The one thing about him is the guy wants to learn,” said Robertson, a two-time Pro Bowl selection while playing for the Tennessee Titans in the 1990s. “He’s eating it up and working on it. And he’s been extremely coachable.
“It’s a beautiful thing. He’s going to have a big year.”
Woodson’s work ethic also has struck a chord with his new teammates. Defensive end Justin Tuck said he is floored by how hard Woodson works “and the little things he does that everybody knows he doesn’t really have to do being a 17-year veteran like being in the meetings and asking and answering questions.
“Coach is trying to get him out of practice to save his legs. He’s like, ‘Nah, man. I need to see these plays,’” Tuck said. “That just shows you why he’s been as good as he’s been for so long. I’ve been in the league 10 years but I’m learning things from him so I can see if I can keep that longevity going.”
While he continues to stave off Father Time, Woodson knows his NFL career will be ending sooner than later and is preparing accordingly. Among his outside business ventures, Woodson has opened a vineyard producing his own signature TwentyFour Wines brand. Woodson also remains active with his self-named charity foundation that offers scholarships and supports the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan. He feels so strongly about the latter cause that he personally made a $2 million donation when the hospital was being constructed.
Asked about shaping his legacy beyond football, Woodson said, “I want to live forever. I say that seriously. In this game I’ve been able to do a lot from a small child until now. I’ve been able to accomplish just about everything besides winning a championship in high school. But one day I’m going to be done playing and there’s going to be a lot more life to live.
“Three hundred, 400 years from now, my great-great-great-great whatever … I want them to look at a picture and say, ‘That guy started it. We’re going to continue it.’ I’m trying to continue and do great things.”
Helping the Raiders end an 11-year playoff drought would be another accomplishment Woodson could add to the list.
Alex Marvez and co-host Gil Brandt interviewed Charles Woodson and Justin Tuck on SiriusXM NFL Radio