ALAMEDA – Raiders safety Charles Woodson is entering his 18th season, and can’t recall an offseason program where he’s had perfect attendance. He skips at least part of these voluntary workouts in spring, far, far away from events of tangible importance.
Not so this season. Woodson has been ever-present.
That wasn’t by design. It was by request.
New head coach Jack Del Rio asked Woodson to stick around and lead by example.
“I sat down with Jack before it all started and we talked about what he wanted from this team and him wanting me here,” Woodson said after Tuesday’s mandatory minicamp practice. “I honestly didn’t plan on being here every practice, but I’m here. I understood completely what he was talking about. Also, talking with my position coaches, [defensive backs coach] Marcus Robertson, and all of those guys, we decided the best thing to do was be here Day 1 and just continue through the whole thing.
“It’s been fun and great to be here working with the guys.”
Woodson wants to finish his career well. His first two seasons haven’t gone as planned, with a 7-25 two-year record despite solid, often excellent individual play. Woodson has taken as active a role as possible to ensure the Raiders are as ready as possible to win football games this fall.
Leadership is crucial on a team with precious youth, especially in a secondary with inexperienced cornerbacks. Having him around as added resource is valued even by a coaching staff loaded with former players.
“It means everything,” defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. “That kid, I call him a kid, he’s a grown man but to me he’s still a kid – the wealth of knowledge, the fact that he’s played so long and he still has so much juice, so much energy, so much football to share. Our team is so young, when a guy like that has so much experience and knowledge and you see him out there, working with the guys, coaching them up, still making plays, still diving around, catching the ball, it’s just amazing. The NFL average is three years and he’s on 18, that is extraordinary. Having him on the team is just a blessing. He’s awesome. If we had a team full of Charles Woodsons, we’d be pretty good.”
Woodson looks at his career one year at a time, without guarantees beyond it. He still plays at a high level at age 38, and was ranked the NFL’s 64th-best player by his peers. Woodson still has the health, drive and production to carry on. In an era where players are retiring early, Woodson views each season in the NFL as a privilege that won’t be available forever.
“I have been able to be relatively healthy my whole career. I still want to play,” Woodson said. "I’m still playing at a high level. When you have those things going for you, why not keep playing? All of the guys that I’ve played with throughout the years, a lot of them would still love to be playing. Even though you’ve got guys retiring, there are a bunch of guys that would still love to be playing. For all of those guys that I’ve played with that tell me every year to ‘keep going,’ because they would love to have this opportunity. I can play and I still feel good. I’m going to go out there and give it what I’ve got.”
There’s still an uncertain future, and he maximizes his effort on the field and in an effort to make the Raiders better.
“It’s been excellent having him around, really,” Del Rio said. “The leadership, the mentoring, the example – it’s not surprising to me. I’ve been around a few great players over the last couple of years, watching Peyton Manning, watching Champ Bailey. It’s not a secret why some of these guys that are tremendous athletes, they’re playing well into their careers, why they continue to play at such a high level. It’s their work ethic and their love for the game. These guys love football. They love being around the guys. They love helping, teaching and competing.
“One thing about Charles, he is a very competitive guy. I think that’s what fuels him.”