Charles Woodson’s return to the Raiders last season was one of the few truly “feel good” stories of a year that ended with a second straight 4-12 season as the former Hesiman Trophy winner and top draft pick of the Raiders decided to return home to Oakland to finish his career as a Raider. Fans did not know how long C-Wood would be in the fold, but when it was announced he was coming back for the 2014 season it got the same extremely excited reaction from the Raider Nation whose love for one of the arguably greatest defensive backs of all time runs deep.
Woodson pays the fans back for that love with an equal excitement and passion for the Raiders, a passion that has brought him back for another season as he looks to help guide the team that drafted him back to the playoffs as a final great act to one of the best football careers of the modern era.
Taking to the podium following Raiders Monday OTA’s, Woodson was naturally excited to talk about the new look team that he feels has a chance to achieve some major goals that have been set. Praising the team’s experience as well as a strong draft, Woodson feels that the sky is the limit for the Raiders even in 2014.
Q: Charles, you’ve been watching as Reggie McKenzie has been adding all these different pieces to this defense, and this team overall, but now that you’ve seen everybody together on the field, what’s the experience been like?
“I think overall it’s been a positive experience. Just being out there today, I think the communication level between the guys, especially on the defensive side of the ball, has been intense. That’s the kind of thing you need when you have a lot of new guys coming in, playing in a different system, playing on a different team. It’s all about that communication. The new guys that we’ve brought in, we have guys that know how to get it done. That’s the positive thing about it.”
Q: How much better do you feel about this defense now than you did a year ago?
“I feel good about it. I really do. For me, I like to have a veteran presence. Bringing in guys like [Justin] Tuck, bringing in guys like [LaMarr] Woodley, those are guys that know how to win and know how to play the game of football. As I was just saying, that’s the difference you see out there, especially defensively. They’ve won. They’ve won in this league and they’ve won the big one. Having guys out there like that, you have leaders on the team that guys can follow, and that’s going to be important for us, so I feel really good about it.”
Q: Do you think you feel a little younger, having more guys your age around?
“For me, I feel like I’m getting younger out there anyway. I feel good. Like I said, bringing in those guys, it brings in credibility. I look forward to playing with those guys this season.”
Q: What’s it like having Tyvon [Branch] back healthy and how much will that help you and the things you guys can do defensively?
“Anytime you get your guys back and get them back healthy, you feel better about your chances. It’ll be great for him, coming off the injury. You know he’s hungry, because when you miss time from this game, you get a chance to reflect on a lot of things. Having him back and having him be hungry, as I know he is, is going to be great for our defense.”
Q: We talked at the end of the season about you playing more deep safety than you have before, do you see a second year playing the position as a chance to develop and grow?
“You have to. In this game, if you’re not growing, you’re not getting any better. I think having [Assistant DB Coach] Marcus Robertson here is going to help me a lot. A guy that’s played the position for a long time; he’s been an All-Pro at the position, and just the short time that he’s been here has helped me out a lot to see things a lot differently. So from the safety standpoint, there’s no question that I’m going to get better. As far as moving around and being able to do different things, that’ll be up to the coaches and whether or not they want me to move around a little bit more, but I definitely can, so we’ll see how that progresses.”
Q: You have a lot of guys on this team that other team’s think are probably washed up or past their prime, is that extra motivation for you and do you get that sense from the other guys?
“No doubt about it. When I look at guys like Woodley and Tuck coming from other teams- I think most guys would like to play for the team that they were drafted to. Those guys come up on a situation where the team wanted them back, but wanted them back on their terms and they had to make a decision, do they come back or do they move forward? I know those guys feel like they have much more value than what their previous teams thought they had. There’s no doubt that those guys have some extra incentive to come in and show that they’re still great players in this league.”
Q: Was there any doubt in your mind that you would be back here this year?
Yeah. You never know from year to year. It dragged on a little longer than I wanted it to in the offseason. I wanted to get something done right away, but of course every team has their priorities, and I respect what they did in the offseason and the moves that they made prior to me signing again. I was getting a little bit nervous sitting at home trying to figure out what was going to happen, because the reality was, if it didn’t happen here, that could have been it. So yeah, no doubt about it.”
Q: Did you talk to any other teams?
“No, I didn’t talk to anybody. My heart was set on coming back here, and if that didn’t happen I would have had to weigh those options, whether or not something could turn up, but my heart was set on coming here so if it wasn’t here, I don’t know.”
Q: You haven’t seen Khalil Mack get to hit anybody yet, but what have been your first impressions of seeing him out there?
“His movements. I’ve watched him a couple of times come off the edge, and he’s a guy that can bend at the waist, he can get low. He can get under tackles if he’s going around the edge. He’s quick enough to where he can get a guy in space coming off the edge. He can make movements in or out and go either way, and he seems to be put together pretty well, so we know he has some strength. I’ve just seen him a little bit, but it’ll be great to see him in action when it really goes down. We all have high hopes for him, because he’s only going to make us better as team. I look forward to playing alongside of him.”
Q: Judging by the experience that’s on this team, when you look at this team, what do you see as the ceiling?
“There isn’t a ceiling. We’re trying to bust through the ceiling. I look at the team and I feel like I have what I need from a team standpoint to get all the way there. Now, does that happen? Nobody knows until the time comes, but we have players in there, and if we all focus in, all our goals at the end of the season will be there.”
Q: You said that you thought this year might be it, so will you look at this year any differently, maybe stop and smell the roses a little bit?
“I think every year you stop and smell the roses once you get past a certain point. But I’m looking at the team, and just going off how I feel health wise, I’m not looking at this being the last year. Of course, I’m going to enjoy every moment of it at the same time, because like I said, you never know how it’s going to turn out. I’m looking at what they’ve done here this offseason and the guys they’ve brought in, the draft that we had- we’re going to be a good team. If that means playing this year and beyond, then of course I’d be open to it.”
Q: What have been your observations of the way [Matt] Schaub’s stepped in and seized leadership on that side of the ball, and your observations of him over the years? Is he the guy that can get you there?
“I think he can. For a lot of the guys, it’s coming in and having a fresh start. I get that sense from him that this is how he’s looking at it. He had a good run there; he had some good years over there in Houston, but this is a fresh start for him, and I think he’s anxious to of course go out there and prove the naysayers wrong, because a lot of people are down on him because of what happened last season. I think we realize, players, this organization, that one bad year doesn’t make anybody a big player. You can have those types of years. I know what he’s done in this league. He’s thrown for a lot of yards in this league, and I think we have some weapons around him here. I think adding the competition that we have on our offensive line, guys that can protect him. Having D-Mac [Darren McFadden] back, having MJD [Maurice Jones-Drew] here, bringing in James Jones, you have some guys around him that can make him better, and that’s how we see it.”
Q: How soon was it before Maurice [Jones-Drew] came up and talked to you about your Superman tackle last year?
*Laughing* “He just let me know, that’s why he joined so he didn’t have to deal with that Super Man tackle anymore.”
Q: What were your impressions of DJ [Hayden] last week, coming in the second year after a rough rookie year?
“I think of him like I think of Tyvon, a guy that missed a lot of time and is anxious to get back. You can tell he’s much stronger. He’s been in the weight room handing his business that way, but from a corner standpoint, you have to be in the game. So how much better has he gotten as a player? That we won’t know until things really start happening during the season. Like I said, nobody’s going to feel sorry for a guy that was a top pick in the draft, so he’s going to have to come in and prove himself beyond the offseason.”
Q: Do you get the feeling that experience is getting undervalued in the NFL?
“I think in any league. I think the Spurs were undervalued. They have an older team, but they’re playing for the whole thing again. I think it is undervalued. I think if you look at the NFL, every team wants to get younger. They push a lot of the older guys out; guys that can still play the game. I don’t think there’s any question that it’s undervalued, so it’s going to be our job, especially guys like myself, Woodley and Tuck, to show that our best days are not behind us just because other people say our best days are behind us. We’re going out there to play good football and win games, and that’s what we intend to do.”
Q:Tim Brown had said a couple of weeks ago that this is what the Raiders did the last time they went to the Super Bowl, having a lot of veteran players with some young players. Can you see that parallel?
“Yeah, absolutely. I see a lot similarities, and he’s exactly right. I think the veteran guys that they’ve brought in have been veteran guys in key positions. I keep saying Tuck and Woodley, but when I think about our team and what we need, we need pass rushers. We need guys that can get to the quarterback. Bringing in Antonio Smith, bringing Pat Sims back, guys like that; we’ve brought in good, quality players and guys that can play football. Again, I can’t stress it enough, the way our communication was out there on the field today, you can tell you have guys that have been in the game before and know how to win, and know what it takes to win.”
Q: Anybody jumping out as far as the rookies you guys drafted?
Woodson: “Not yet. Not yet; it’s still way too early. We have to wait until this thing gets real out there.”
Quotes courtesy of the Oakland Raiders official website.