Charles Woodson will be 37 in October and has played 15 seasons in the NFL.
So is he too old to make a positive impact in his return to the Raiders this season? Is he too slow? Is he long past his prime?
Oakland defensive coordinator Jason Tarver says no, no and no to all those questions. Tarver, speaking to the Bay Area media Tuesday as the Raiders prepare to officially break training camp in Napa Wednesday, says he believes Woodson – signed to a free-agent deal this offseason from Green Bay to play safety for the Raiders – will be a huge force for the better in 2013.
“Charles, his bursts surprise me every day,” Tarver told reporters. “The guy just covers ground. He had a couple of interceptions at practice today. He’s an amazing athlete. That’s why he’s a big piece of getting this defense to where we want to go in our black jerseys, and hopefully that cements his legacy – because he can still cover ground.
“He has those great ball skills, he’s got a great feel for when the quarterback is going to release the ball. … That’s still there. He’s practiced all camp and he’s still as explosive out of his stance, and that’s what makes the great DBs great is that ability to close the distance at the point of no return when the ball’s in the air.
“He’s showing that and obviously we hope it continues.”
Woodson, who will team with Tyvon Branch at safety, will be part of a big change in the Raiders secondary, along with new cornerbacks D.J. Hayden, Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter.
The Raiders hope that Woodson is not only an upgrade on the field with his performance, but is a leader on his unit, too.
Woodson is eager to prove to everybody that he still is an elite player.
“I read all of it,” Woodson told Sports Illustrated’s Jim Trotter this week, about those who doubt he can still be a playmaker. “Basically they say I can’t do it. They say I haven’t been getting it done for the last three years. I’ve read a lot of things like that – that I’ve been declining every year, which is funny because I was just All-Pro two years ago.
“But it’s all good because when I turn on the film or I look at me on the football field, no one plays faster than me. You can go ask coaches in Green Bay, as far as how I played before breaking my collarbone last year. … All the stuff they’re saying just ain’t true.”
To Tarver, Woodson has qualities that can’t be taught, such as having an instinct for finding the football. Tarver says it’s no coincidence that defenses that feature Woodson simply have a knack for coming up with turnovers.
“Having Charles around, that stuff can be contagious,” said Tarver.