|Charles Woodson may not be on the field for the Packers because of a shoulder injury, but coaches and teammates say his leadership will still stretch far and wide. (US Presswire)|
The 36-year-old, eight-time Pro Bowler, who was hurt in the fourth quarter of last week's win at St. Louis, is still hanging around, recuperating from his injury and offering advice to the young players tasked with replacing him at cornerback and safety.
Coach Mike McCarthy was asked Wednesday if Woodson's presence was still felt around the team facilities in Green Bay.
“Shoot, he might be here now more than he's ever been,” McCarthy said. “Around the clock getting treatment, he's in the cafeteria around these guys. Charles offers a lot to our program. He and the medical staff are doing everything they can to try to get him back as quickly as possible.”
Woodson -- who suffered virtually the exact same injury, though less severe, in the Super Bowl two years ago -- believes he can come back sooner than six weeks. But if the month-and-a-half estimate holds, he'd be returning for the Packers' Dec. 9 game against Detroit.
Until then, the Packers have a cast of young players ready to be the “next man up,” as they like to say.
Rookie second-round CB Casey Hayward, who's tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with four, will play nickel cornerback, where Woodson has roamed since defensive coordinator Dom Capers arrived in Green Bay.
Another rookie, fourth-round S Jerron McMillian, is expected to man the slot corner spot in the dime package, a position he got some work at during training camp and one that keeps the physical McMillian close to the line of scrimmage.
Second-year S M.D. Jennings may be tasked with operating as the deep safety in the Packers' 3-4 base defense, given his coverage ability and instincts. And three other players could see their roles increase: second-year CB Davon House, who got his first defensive snaps last week after dislocating his shoulder in training camp and played well on the outside, hard-hitting veteran Jarrett Bushand injured incumbent starter CB Sam Shields (shin).
McCarthy said the Packers wouldn't be mixing and matching to try to replace Woodson's versatility and production.
“We're not creating a game plan where we specify three guys that will replace Charles Woodson,” McCarthy said, adding that the defense would adapt to the opponent and play the appropriate players based on the situation.
Harder to make up for than Woodson's play are the intangibles and leadership qualities he brings to the defense. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers said the loss was “more significant than even people think when they talk about it.”
“He's more than just a player," Rodgers said. "He's a presence in the locker room, he's a leader, he's a vocal leader, he's a big-play guy on defense.
"He's a guy people have to account for every time. I know if I was playing our defense, I would want to know where he's at, whether he was at the high safety or whether he was down in the slot or whether he was coming on a pressure."
Rodgers feels bad for Woodson, who he called a close friend. He said Woodson seems to be a little more upbeat the last couple of days and agrees with Woodson that he will return sooner than the timeline doctors have stated.
Wide receiver Donald Driver, who is 37 and in his 14th season, also sympathizes with his teammate's situation.
“I've been playing with Charles a long time,” Driver said. “For a guy that loves football as much as he loves football, to not get an opportunity to play is real tough. I know he can't wait until he's able to come back.”
But Driver dismissed the notion that Woodson's absence on the field meant the defense was devoid of his guidance and support in the locker room or on the sideline.
“I don't think they lost anything,” Driver said. “I think a lot of people think when you lose one guy you lose everything. You don't. Charles is not gone. He's just not on that field playing. But he will show that leadership on the sideline, and we know that he's done it, he did it in the Super Bowl, and he'll do it once again.”