GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If Charles Woodson begins next season as a starting safety for the Packers, it will just be the next step of a transition that's already been in progress.
Last season, though Woodson continued to be listed at cornerback -- the position he's played throughout his entire 14-year NFL career -- he got a lot of snaps at other defensive positions.
"There's been games where he's lined up at linebacker," Packers cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said after the draft. "There's been games that he's lined up at safety already. There's been games he lines up at nickel, dime, corner. The scheme and the game plan dictate where he lines up. He's going to line up where we need him that week."A permanent switch for Woodson was made more likely over the past two weeks, starting with the news that the Packers had released three-time Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins due to concerns about his long-term health following neck surgery. Then, general manager Ted Thompson moved up in the draft to select cornerback Casey Hayward in the second round.While Thompson wouldn't speculate whether those moves indicated a likely position change for Woodson, defensive coordinator Dom Capers didn't really seem to view Woodson as a pure cornerback at this point anyway."Charles has played so many different places for us that we just feel that he's played corner, nickel, dime, safety, wherever we've wanted Charles to play, he's played," Capers said. "Our experience with Charles is Charles is a bright guy."It's not like it would be a radical move because of the way we've used him in the last three years, basically. We feel he can play any one of those positions. That's one of the things he brings to the table is the flexibility that he gives you. That could potentially change from week to week. It has up to this point in time. You've watched us play him at a number of different positions. Many times who you're playing that week and your game plan dictates that."With Woodson now 35 years old, it's not as if his ball-hawking pass-coverage skills have drastically declined. In 2011, Woodson tied for the league lead in interceptions with seven. However, through data collected by ProFootballFocus, Woodson also led the Packers in missed tackles with 18.The biggest issue with Woodson becoming a full-time safety is that, frankly, he doesn't want to."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 in an exclusive interview in December 2011. "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."Given Woodson's reputation as a team leader on defense, it's highly likely that he would abandon his cornerback role if asked to do so by the coaching staff. But, given that his 54 career interceptions rank him second among all active players in that category, Woodson may have earned the right to decline a switch if asked by Capers.If Woodson remains at cornerback for one reason or another, or at least remains in his hybrid role encompassing several different positions, the Packers may be in trouble at safety.Morgan Burnett will be back, and he showed very positive signs as an evolving playmaker in the defense last season. The 23-year-old Burnett, a third-round pick in 2010, started every game and had three interceptions, two fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles, one sack and 11 passes defended. And that was with much of his season being spent in a full cast on his right hand.But, next to Burnett, the Packers need to find an answer. In 2011, after Collins injured his neck in Week 2, Charlie Peprah stepped in to the starting role and struggled. Coach Mike McCarthy frequently cited miscommunication on defense as multiple passes sailed over Peprah and the secondary's heads on the way to big plays nearly every game throughout the season. By year's end, Green Bay found itself with a record it didn't want, allowing the most passing yards in NFL history in one season.When assessing the safeties, the most praise-worthy item that Capers had for Peprah is that the 29-year-old has a lot of experience."You got a guy like Charlie Peprah who's played more than 900 plays in the last two years," Capers said. "Morgan Burnett started all year for the first time and we really like where he is in terms of, we think he can ascend into being a very good player for us."Last year, obviously we were heading into the season with Nick (Collins), who's an experienced guy and a real top-flight player. If the backup guys, hopefully one of those guys surfaces, where you feel comfortable. Charlie Peprah started as a backup two years ago and he played over 900 plays for us and there's no question in my mind that he's a lot better player for the experience."There is a new safety being added to the group, rookie Jerron McMillian. However, McMillian will be jumping from the University of Maine, a small school that plays in the Football Championship Subdivision -- formerly known as Division I-AA -- all the way to the NFL. That adjustment will likely take some time for McMillian, whom the Packers drafted in the fourth round.So, after 14 years at cornerback, Woodson may be Green Bay's only good option at safety next season.Follow Paul Imig on Twitter.