While our 2009 wasn't as successful as it was for other teams, we saw enough to expect more success in 2010 and beyond. There's a lot to like about the Green Bay Packers going forward, unless of course you're cheering for the other team. But which players fit in the best? Which don't? Which ones are keepers, and which ones need to be driven out of town? It's time to look at who did well (and who didn't), and ultimately what their role will be going forward.
When he was signed in 2006, Charles Woodson was anything but a sure thing. He was coming off of a broken leg and, while widely regarded as one of the most gifted defenders in the league, he had not had the impact he was projected to have coming off of his Heisman award at Michigan. He had never eclipsed 5 interceptions in a season, nor had he shown the responsibility required of a defensive leader.
Sometimes, all you need is a change of scenery. Woodson turned into a top-shelf defender after coming to Green Bay, and 2009 was his best season yet. Winner of the DPOY, anchor of a top-5 defense, what more could you ask for?
As far as cornerbacks go, you can't ask for more. Woodson's nine interceptions were tied for tops in the league. He had more forced fumbles (4) and sacks (2) than any defensive back in the top 30 for INTs. His 74 tackles were far and away the most by anyone playing in the defensive backfield. His three touchdowns were rivaled only by former Packer and fellow ballhawk Darren Sharper. Pro Bowler. Defensive Player of the Year. The star player on one of the league's best defenses.
And it'll probably only go downhill from here.
Age is a funny thing. It's easily the biggest enemy of any athlete, more than fatigue, injury, or illness. But it's simultaneously unstoppable and unseeable. It can stop anyone if you give it enough time. Sure, you can stave it off for a few years, but at the professional level, it'll catch up with you some day.
Popular belief dictates that running backs start to decline after their 30th birthday. The list of players who uphold this belief is longer than some care to admit: Shaun Alexander, Priest Holmes, Jamal Lewis, and most recently, LaDanian Tomlinson. However, the position of cornerback doesn't have this stigma, even though it should. While the cut-off obviously isn't thirty (Woodson is currently 33), that's likely because CBs don't take the physical punishment that RBs do.
But the big concern is the same. The quickness is there...just not as much. The straight line speed is there...but it doesn't last as long. The eyes see the play as it develops...but the hands and legs can't react quick enough. You've still got the same physical body that did this before...but you'll never do this again:
The silver lining? Woodson already knows it's happening.
But now, at 33, can he run like he used to? Can he make the one-handed leaping interception he made against Michigan State on a ball the quarterback was trying to throw out of bounds?
"No question," Woodson said. "I haven't lost it all. I can still make that play. Now, I'll tell you this, I can't jump as high as I used to, but hands-wise, if I get my hands on it, I feel like I can come down with the ball. If it's in the vicinity, I can make that play.
"I think straight-ahead I'm just as fast as I've ever been. Quickness, maybe a little less, but straight ahead I can still go get it."
Woodson is one of the smartest players in the game today. Not just in terms of football IQ, but general intelligence. He knows he's aging. He knows he needs to take care of his body to slow the process. He knows not to take chances just because he made that play ten years prior.
He also knows what needs to be done in order to be in position to make those plays. Film work, practice, weightlifting, drills, whatever Woodson did in order to become what he is today is something he can both keep doing for himself and pass along to younger players. Sure, Tramon Williams might not have the same quickness, or Pat Lee might not have the same leaping ability. But they can learn how to be where they need to be and do what they need to do to emulate Chuck.
Unfortunately for the team, that might end up being the best contribution he can make past 2010. Face it; Al Harris has all but been replaced by Tramon Williams, and the team has been trying to find another candidate for a post-Woodson starting CB. So we can expect another great year in 2010, followed by a very good 2011...but in 2012? Well, let's just see how it plays out.