GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Charles Woodson has officially moved to safety in the Green Bay Packers' base 3-4 defensive packages.During the Packers' first training camp practice Thursday morning, Woodson lined up at safety during all team drills in the 3-4 defense. He was also with the safety group during the team's position meetings.Woodson, beginning his 15th NFL season at age 35, has been one of the best cornerbacks in NFL history. Ranked 20th in the league's record books with 54 interceptions, Woodson is coming off a 2011 season in which he tied for the league lead by adding seven more to his career totals. Though the Packers are only in their base 3-4 defense (also known as the "Okie") on about one-third of their snaps, and Woodson has played some safety in recent years, the move is still a deviation from where he has spent the vast majority of his likely Hall of Fame career."Now he's just lined up in Okie playing strong safety," coach Mike McCarthy said after practice. "So it really isn't anything new, but I mean, it's the same really as it's always been."Woodson is the slot cornerback in Green Bay's nickel defense, which will be used frequently. According to ProFootballFocus.com, four of Woodson's seven interceptions last season came while in the slot."I think something that's been very evident for Charles, No. 1 throughout his career, he's been a playmaker, whether he's played the corner or the inside position," McCarthy said of the eight-time Pro Bowl selection. "In our particular defense, we feel that he is a lot more valuable to us the closer he is to the ball because of the different positions he can play, the number of different things that we're able to do with him."So that's really part of the thinking of trying to get him closer to the ball and more involved because of his instincts. He plays the game a lot like a quarterback does from a defensive side."McCarthy had hinted that a change was coming for Woodson, saying earlier this offseason that it would likely be a 6 to 10 percent shift in role.
Woodson was not available for comment Thursday, but in an exclusive interview with FOXSportsWisconsin in December 2011, did not want to move to safety.
"To be honest with you, I look around the league now and I don't see anybody playing better than me at corner," Woodson said at the time. "Most people move to safety because they have to. They're not playing the same way at corner as they did. I can still play corner.
"I think I'm at my best now. It's because mentally I'm better."
Woodson moving away from the outside cornerback spot has created an open competition for that starting position opposite 2010 Pro Bowler Tramon Williams. That battle appears to be between seventh-year veteran Jarrett Bush and third-year player Sam Shields, with Bush currently on top on the depth chart.
Throughout Bush's six years with the Packers, he has been a very good special teams player but has only sparingly played on defense. Last season, Bush was almost exclusively used only in dime packages. But in Green Bay's playoff loss at home to the New York Giants, Bush was suddenly the nickel cornerback ahead of Shields.
With Bush being a strong tackler on a team that is emphasizing tackling, and the speedy Shields struggling in that area, that is the most likely reason for the switch.
"The thing about Jarrett that's always been the case, he's the same man every day," McCarthy said. "He just competes to get better. He makes plays out here on the practice field all the time. He had a good day again today.
"Sam's a very talented man that frankly needs experience. The offseason really helped him. He's stronger; you can see he's made progress in the weight room.
"To me, it's not really about Sam versus Jarrett. We don't look at it that way. We need as many playmakers, as many DBs (defensive backs) as possible. I anticipate they'll both be major contributors to our secondary."
When in nickel defense and Woodson switches to the slot, there is also a safety position up for grabs. The likely winner of that job will be M.D. Jennings, who went undrafted in 2011.
"I think M.D. really showed things last year, particularly on special teams," McCarthy said. "Just going through a number of our fundamental tapes last night, together with the football team, we take the opportunity to have position coaches go through key fundamentals that we want to make sure we're highlighting before we practice.
"Time and time again you can see M.D. showing up, particularly in the special teams work. He has that body of work accompanied with a good offseason. I know (safety coach) Darren Perry is excited about his development. It'll be fun to watch him grow and compete."
Morgan Burnett is a lock for one of the two safety positions regardless of what defensive package the Packers are in. Jennings could eventually be challenged by rookie Jerron McMillian, a fourth-round pick out of Maine. But for now, Jennings will get the most opportunities next to Burnett in the nickel.
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