By Sam McPherson
CBS Local Sports presents 32 Players in 32 Days, a daily feature focusing on one impact player from each NFL team.
Charles Woodson – FS – #24
Weight:. 200 lbs.
Hometown: Fremont, Ohio
Experience: 17 years
The last time the Oakland Raiders had a good defense—and for this discussion, that means allowing less than 300 points in a 16-game regular season—they had a 24-year-old cornerback making his third straight Pro Bowl appearance to anchor their secondary.
That was 2000, and the team gave up 299 points on its way to a 12-4 record, an AFC West division title and a berth in the AFC Championship Game. That was the Raiders’ best squad of the post-merger NFL era, in terms of outscoring its opponents (+180) during the regular season.
Well, Charles Woodson is no longer 24, and he’s no longer a cornerback. He’s now 38 and a free safety, but Woodson still holds the keys to making the Raiders defense better than it was in a porous 2013 campaign.
Last year, Oakland surrendered 453 points, which was the fourth-worst total in the National Football League. The Raiders have never made the postseason in a 16-game season where the defense coughed up more than 338 points.
And in a division featuring three playoff teams from 2013, Woodson has his work cut out for him as the leader of the defense—even at his age. But his experience and leadership are what the team needs oodles of in 2014.
Woodson has made eight Pro Bowls, and he’s 17th all-time in interceptions with 56 picks. Woodson is also fifth all-time with 13 non-offensive touchdowns, but none of those accomplishments will mean much to the Raiders this fall: they need Woodson to show the others how to play the game right.
Even with Woodson returning to the team last year after a seven-year stint with the Green Bay Packers, his veteran leadership couldn’t save the defense. The Raiders gave up 56 points and 49 points at home to the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles, respectively. Oakland also surrendered 37 points on the road twice, to the Denver Broncos and the New York Jets.
After the loss to the Jets, Woodson famously compared his defense to the Bad News Bears: “Defensively we went out there and basically peed down our legs.”
Hopefully, Woodson remembers how the Bad News Bears recovered by adding some key players to the mix and made it all the way to the championship game at the end of the season.
The Raiders defense was better in the beginning of the season, before offensive challenges put the defense on the field too much in the second half of 2013—remember when they held Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts to just 21 points in a Week Two loss? Oakland also held eventual AFC playoff participant San Diego to just 17 points in a Week Five victory.
So the talent is there, and with some infusion of new blood into the offensive lineup—quarterback Matt Schaub and running back Maurice Jones-Drew should help improve the point-scoring ability on the other side of the ball—Woodson and his fellow defenders of the Silver & Black goal line will benefit.
Consider this: 44 percent of the Raiders 2013 salary structure was going to players no longer on the roster. That was $56 million in dead money. There are several new faces on defense for 2014, and the defensive line has been re-hauled through free agency and the draft. This can allow Woodson to roam a bit more and make a bigger overall impact, even if his aging body isn’t what it used to be.
Woodson will have to be pretty good—perhaps not like it’s 2000, but maybe just like 2011 when he last made the Pro Bowl—this fall for Oakland to surprise the experts with its rough schedule, tough division and recent history.
But hey, would you count Woodson out after the career he’s had?
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on a Examiner.com.