Raiders’ Woodson still excelling at 39

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
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Allen Park — Raiders safety Charles Woodson has a pretty simple explanation for why he’s been able to play well at age 39.

“It’s all in the grapes,” he said Wednesday, noting Cabernet specifically.

Sure, Woodson might have been trying to promote his California wine company, but whatever the recipe is, there’s no doubt the former Michigan star has found the right formula as he’s continued to thrive in his 18th season.

Woodson, whose Raiders visit Ford Field on Sunday, is tied for the NFL lead with five interceptions, and he’s third on his team with 46 tackles.

As much as the Lions want to beat the Raiders, some of the players are excited to see the former Heisman Trophy winner and longtime NFL star in action.

“I watched him when I was growing up,” Lions defensive end Darryl Tapp said. “So, a couple series, I’m going to be out there looking in awe like, ‘This is unbelievable right here.’

Tapp said he recalls doing the same thing earlier in his career when he shared a field with standout defensive end Jason Taylor.

“He’s a living legend,” Tapp said of Woodson. “And he’s still playing at a high level. It’s not like he’s a figurehead out there.”

When Woodson’s career is over, he’ll be a sure bet for the Hall of Fame. He was the defensive rookie of the year in 1998, defensive player of the year in 2009, a three-time first-team All-Pro, ranks fifth in career interceptions and fifth in non-offensive touchdowns.

The longer Woodson plays, the more his name will be mentioned among the greatest defensive backs in history. Rod Woodson played 17 years and Darrell Green played 20 — and both are Hall of Famers. And, Charles Woodson said he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of playing next year when he’s 40, which he’ll turn next October.

“I guess I’m already there pretty much,” Woodson said during a teleconference Wednesday. “Could I see myself going another year? I guess I could.”

But, it’d be hard to project what will happen next year when Woodson didn’t even see this longevity for himself.

“Not even once that I can remember did I really put a number on it,” he said. “I could honestly say that I never pictured 18 (years), and so be to be at this point it’s even remarkable to me because I never set out to play a certain amount of years.

“I just wanted to play, I wanted to be great at the game, and however it turned out, it turned out. But I never looked this far into it.”

Woodson has been great in 11 games against the Lions, with eight interceptions and three touchdowns, more than he has against any other team. And the Lions certainly remember him thriving with the Packers from 2006-12 before rejoining the Raiders — the team with which he spent his first eight seasons — in 2013.

Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson said Woodson has a knack for jumping routes and is in tune with what offenses are doing.

“He’s obviously a smart football player, a smart guy, but he’s just seen so much and trusts himself to just play what his eyes tell him,” Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “He’s the first guy reacting on the defense to some plays that everybody else is guessing the other thing, so he’s a smart guy and obviously still has the physical ability to go make those plays when his eyes tell him where to go.”

Besides the wine, Woodson’s work ethic has been a key to his sustained success. Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said Woodson was the first player at the team facility every day during the offseason.

“It’s rare what he’s doing,” said Del Rio, in his first year in Oakland. “To have a guy as talented as he is that continues to have the drive and the determination that he does, he brings that every day.

“It’s been amazing to watch, really. … So everything he’s done, he’s ultra-competitive and a real professional, and he’s just been a treat to have on the team.”

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