GREEN BAY, Wis. — One of the NFL’s top quarterbacks learned from one of the best defensive backs in the game.
With Charles Woodson leading the defense and Aaron Rodgers running the offense, the Green Bay Packers had a remarkable run of success that included a Super Bowl win and a 15-1 record the following season.
The good friends will have a warm reunion Friday night when the safety returns to Lambeau Field for the first time since signing with Oakland last year. The Raiders visit Green Bay for a preseason game.
“Charles is one of my all-time favorite teammates. Probably the most talented guy, most dominant player that I’ve played with during his stretch, from his time he got here until he left,” Rodgers said. “I learned so much from him.”
Whatever he picked up, he’s putting to good use. Rodgers practiced against Woodson extensively when he was running the scout team, and went up against Woodson every day in practice as the starter. He listened when Woodson would speak up, then watched the safety expand his leadership role.
Come Friday, Rodgers will try to pick apart a Raiders defense that has struggled early. It’s expected to be the 2011 NFL MVP’s most extensive action before the season opener in two weeks against Seattle.
Combined during the first two weeks against the Raiders, Matt Cassel and Matthew Stafford were 14 for 16 for 150 yards and two touchdowns against the first-team Oakland defense, and they led three touchdown drives in four possessions.
“It’s the ultimate test. ‘A-Rod’ is the best quarterback in the league, in my eyes. Their offense has been explosive,” Woodson said. “I’ve seen it firsthand for many years.”
The Packers’ first-team offense was in midseason form last week against St. Louis, albeit against an admittedly vanilla defense. Rodgers was 11 for 13 for 128 yards in two first-half drives, both leading to scores.
Woodson, who still has a lot of friends on the Packers, is looking forward to returning to Titletown.
“I don’t know if I am looking forward to playing against ‘A-Rod,'” he said, “but it’ll be fun to go back in that stadium.”
Oakland, in fact, has served as an outpost for former Packers in recent years with former Green Bay director of football operations Reggie McKenzie now Raiders general manager. Receiver James Jones and defensive lineman C.J. Wilson left Green Bay as free agents this year to sign in Oakland.
Jones’ departure in particular left room in the Packers’ receiving corps to pick up catches. Rookie Davante Adams, drafted in the second round by Green Bay, has taken notice. He’s trying to earn Rodgers’ confidence.
“He’s going to come out and demand the most out of each and every one of us, whether it’s a seven-year vet, or … a rookie,” Adams said. “So he holds us to a high standard and I feel like that’s what’s making us better, because I feel I’m getting better every day.”
Adams played in a prolific offense in college at Fresno State, where his quarterback was Derek Carr. Also drafted in the second round, Carr is a backup with the Raiders. Carr sustained a concussion in last week’s game.
The starter, Matt Schaub, hasn’t looked great in the first two preseason games with one score on seven drives. Maybe Woodson will pass along a few tips on facing a Packers defense still coordinated by Dom Capers.
While still with the Packers before the 2011 season, Woodson challenged the team to go undefeated a year after winning the Super Bowl. Green Bay started 13-0 before its only regular season loss at Kansas City, 19-14.
Woodson “was a guy who people just respected so much for the way he carried himself and the way he played on the field,” Rodgers said, “and it’s hard to replace a guy like that.”