NAPA — Charles Woodson is showing few signs of slowing down even at age 38.
While former teammate Tim Brown gets set for his Hall of Fame induction and most of his contemporaries are long done with their NFL careers, Woodson is preparing for his 18th NFL season with the enthusiasm of a much younger player.
Woodson did not miss a single offseason practice for the first time he could remember and has been on the field each day in training camp as the Oakland Raiders try to end a 12-year playoff drought that began in Woodson’s first stint with the franchise.
“I tell these guys all the time that when I first came in, practices were a lot different,” he said Friday. “You put the pads on more. Guys had to bang a lot more and you were putting on the pads twice a day. Training camps are a lot different these days. For me, I find it hard to come out here and complain about practicing when it’s not how it used to be.”
Woodson truly did begin his career in what seems like a different era after being drafted fourth overall by the Raiders in 1998. New rules are in place limiting practice time and contact as the league has adjusted because concerns about concussions and other injuries.
Woodson talked about the example Brown set on how to be a professional back when he was a young player. The two played six years together and Brown has been out of the league for 10 more seasons, but Woodson keeps playing.
Now he is the respected veteran dishing out advice to young players.
“It’s pressure, man,” he said. “Trying to do the right things, man. Trying to say the right things. I do my best. When I came in, I was, you could say, hard-headed. Young guys now are the same way. For those guys, you just hope that they can understand earlier better than later, because you don’t know how long you’re going to be able to play this game before you ever get it.”
Woodson, who will turn 39 in October, has been able to play longer than most. The only defensive back to start a game at age 39 or older is Hall of Famer Darrell Green, who played until he was 42.
Woodson played all 16 games last season and was on the field for a team-high 1,100 snaps, according to STATS LLC. He led the Raiders with 160 tackles, including 105 solo, and four interceptions. He had nine passes defensed, one fumble recovery and one sack.
Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., whose career overlapped with Woodson for three seasons, said he is impressed at the energy Woodson still brings all those years later.
“Our team is so young, when a guy like that has so much experience and knowledge and you see him out there, working with the guys, coaching them up, still making plays, still diving around, catching the ball, it’s just amazing,” Norton said. “The NFL average is three years and he’s on 18, that’s extraordinary. Having him on the team is just a blessing. He’s awesome. If we had a team full of Charles Woodsons, we’d be pretty good.”
The Raiders haven’t been that way since Woodson returned in 2013. The team has a 7-25 record in his second stint with the franchise and he is intent on helping get it back to the level it had early in his career when the Raiders won three straight division titles and went to the Super Bowl.
Woodson is hopeful that a new coaching staff led by former players like head Jack Del Rio and Norton and offseason additions like receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, center Rodney Hudson, defensive tackle Dan Williams, linebacker Curtis Lofton and safety Nate Allen can help speed that process.
“I think it’s been great,” he said. “I think in some key positions where we’ve added people, you add talented guys that can be potential game-breakers for you. That’s what you need in this game. You need some guys that can go out there and perhaps take the game over at any given moment. I think we have a few guys like that.”