Manny Crisostomo mcrisostomo@sacbee.com Charles Woodson remembers how he used to joke with older players. Now 36, " … I find myself in the same position," he says.

Woodson believes he has much to offer

Published: Wednesday, Sep. 4, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Wednesday, Sep. 4, 2013 - 5:47 pm

ALAMEDA – Charles Woodson thinks back to the way things used to be and laughs at the thought of having become the wise old man.

"It's really funny, having 15 years in and listening to a lot of comments from the young guys," Woodson said. "I just reflect when I came in and there's Tim Brown and Jerry Rice, guys who were older than a lot of us were. I always joked with them about how old they were. Now I find myself in the same position."

Returning to where he started following seven seasons with the Green Bay Packers, Woodson has been amused by how his potential contributions to the Raiders in 2013 have been characterized.

He is the wily veteran, a coach on the field. In contrast to his burn-the-candle-at-both-ends days during his first tenure as a Raider, Woodson gets enough sleep, is a contributor in meeting rooms and didn't miss a training camp practice until coach Dennis Allen ordered him to take a day off.

In a national conference call, ESPN analyst and former Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian said Woodson was so respected, anything they get from him on the field "is a bonus when you're in that kind of rebuilding mode."

Yet Woodson, who is the most recognizable star on a team that hasn't had a winning record since 2002, is expected to be more than just a reasonable facsimile of the same player who has 55 career interceptions.

The social media-fueled reception that helped coax him back to Oakland on May 22 was a nice bit of nostalgia, but Charles Woodson was signed to be Charles Woodson.

"Let's make no mistake about it, Charles is here to play football and make plays for us first," Allen said. "It's a bonus to have a guy that has that veteran leadership."

So what tells Woodson he can still produce?

"By the way I move," said Woodson, who will turn 37 on Oct. 7. "I can still move with the best of 'em and I still love the game. If you have those things, you keep playing."

Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver is convinced Woodson is more than a sounding board with a Pro Football Hall of Fame résumé.

"His burst surprises me every day," Tarver said. "The guy just covers ground. That's why he's a big piece of getting this defense where we want it, and hopefully that cements his legacy."

Knowing when to retire is a tricky thing. Sometimes the athlete doesn't realize it, and occasionally the employer is too eager to force a veteran out the door.

"As you get older, they use that birth certificate against you," former Raiders safety and Hall of Famer Rod Woodson said. "When things don't go well, they blame your age."

Charles Woodson helped lead Green Bay to a Super Bowl championship following the 2010 season but was released after breaking the same collarbone two times in three seasons.

Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, in a phone interview during training camp, was sorry to see Woodson become a salary cap casualty and believes whatever he's lost in terms of skills had been made up for in terms of know-how.

"He understands the game more than anybody I've ever seen at his position, and I think he has a lot of ability left," Rodgers said. "He's on the older side by NFL standards, but I think the savvy and wisdom he has can make up for anything."

Raiders cornerback Willie Brown, who at age 36 returned an interception 75 yards for a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI en route to the Hall of Fame, believes Woodson's skills are still top shelf.

"What kind of feet does he have vs. when he first came into the league?" Brown said. "Watch his quickness and ability to keep fighting. Does he give up easy or stay in there and fight for the ball? Can he turn around as fast as he used to? His quickness is still here."

Often, the athlete is the last to know when it is time to retire. Rice had two outstanding seasons with Oakland before dwindling opportunities in Seattle and Denver led to his retirement.

"I knew, and I kept pushing it," Rice said. "Your body doesn't react like it used to. It takes a lot more time to heal."

Rod Woodson played for the Raiders in 2002 at age 37. Forced out by injury a year later, he often said the distaste for offseason training is a clue it's time to retire.

Charles Woodson insists he will know when it's time to quit.

"I still keep myself on par to play a 16-game season," Woodson said. "When the time comes to retire, I think I'll know. I really do. I'll be working on the field and realize I can't get it done and I'll know.

"But that time hasn't come."

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Read more articles by Jerry McDonald



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