ALAMEDA -- Charles Woodson thinks back to the way things used to be and laughs at the thought of having become the wise old man.

"It's really funny, having 15 years in and listening to a lot of comments from the young guys," Woodson said. "I just reflect when I came in and there's Tim Brown and Jerry Rice, guys who were older than a lot of us were. I always joked with them about how old they were. Now I find myself in the same position."

Returning to where he started after seven seasons with the Green Bay Packers, Woodson has been amused by how his potential contributions to the Raiders in 2013 have been characterized.

Oakland Raiders’ Charles Woodson takes the field before the game against the Dallas Cowboys at O.co Coliseum in Oakland on Friday, Aug. 9, 2013. (Jim
Oakland Raiders' Charles Woodson takes the field before the game against the Dallas Cowboys at O.co Coliseum in Oakland on Friday, Aug. 9, 2013. (Jim Gensheimer/Bay Area News Group) ( Jim Gensheimer )

He is the wily veteran, a coach on the field. In contrast to his burn-the-candle-at-both-ends days during his first tenure as a Raider, Woodson gets enough sleep, is a contributor in meeting rooms and didn't miss a training camp practice until coach Dennis Allen ordered him to take a day off.

In a national conference call, ESPN analyst and former Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian said Woodson was so respected, anything they get from him on the field "is a bonus when you're in that kind of rebuilding mode."

Yet Woodson, who is the most recognizable star on a team that hasn't had a winning record in a decade, is expected to be more than just a reasonable facsimile of the same player who has 55 career interceptions and 29 forced fumbles.


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The social-media-fueled reception that helped coax him back to Oakland on May 22 was a nice bit of nostalgia, but Charles Woodson was signed to be Charles Woodson.

"Let's make no mistake about it, Charles is here to play football and make plays for us first," Allen said. "It's a bonus to have a guy that has that veteran leadership."

So what tells Woodson he can still produce?

"By the way I move," Woodson said. "I can still move with the best of 'em and I still love the game. If you have those things, you keep playing."

Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver is convinced Woodson is more than a sounding board with a Hall of Fame résumé.

"His burst surprises me every day," Tarver said. "The guy just covers ground. That's why he's a big piece of getting this defense where we want it, and hopefully that cements his legacy."

Knowing when to retire is a tricky thing. Sometimes the athlete doesn't realize it, and occasionally the employer is too eager to force a veteran out the door.

"As you get older, they use that birth certificate against you," former Raiders safety and Hall of Famer Rod Woodson said. "When things don't go well, they blame your age."

Charles Woodson helped lead the Green Bay Packers to a Super Bowl championship following the 2010 season but was released after breaking the same collarbone two times in three seasons.

Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, in a phone interview during training camp, was sorry to see Woodson become a salary cap casualty and believes whatever he's lost in terms of skills had been made up for in terms of know-how.

"He understands the game more than anybody I've ever seen at his position and I think he has a lot of ability left," Rodgers said. "He's on the older side by NFL standards, but I think the savvy and wisdom he has can make up for anything, even if physically he might not be the same as when he was as a young player."

Former Raiders cornerback Willie Brown, who returned an interception 75 yards for a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings at age 36 in Super Bowl XI en route to the Hall of Fame, believes Woodson's skills are still top shelf.

"What kind of feet does he have versus when he first came into the league?" Brown said. "Watch his quickness and ability to keep fighting. Does he give up easy or stay in there and fight for the ball? Can he turn around as fast as he used to? His quickness is still here."

Often, the athlete is the last to know when it is time to retire. Rice had two outstanding seasons with Oakland before dwindling opportunities in Seattle and Denver led to his retirement.

"I knew, and I kept pushing it," Rice said. "Your body doesn't react like it used to. It takes a lot more time to heal."

Rod Woodson, like Charles Woodson, was a converted cornerback playing free safety when he joined the Raiders in 2002 at age 36. He had eight interceptions, including a 97-yard touchdown return against Denver, one of the biggest plays in an AFC championship season.

Forced out by injury a year later, Rod Woodson often said the distaste for offseason training is a clue that it's time to hang it up.

"When you play 15, 16 years in the league, there's a lot of workouts that you have to do," Rod Woodson said. "That takes its toll. There are different reasons for every player. I don't think you can categorize why guys retire."

Charles Woodson insists he will know when it's time to quit.

"I still keep myself on par to play a 16-game season," Woodson said. "When the time comes to retire, I think I'll know. I really do. I'll be working on the field and realize I can't get it done and I'll know.

"But that time hasn't come."

Staff writers Dan Brown and Monte Poole contributed to this story.

SUNDAY'S OPENER

Raiders at Indianapolis,
10 a.m. CBS

THE DIFFERENCE-MAKERS


Terrelle Pryor, QB: Pryor's running ability can break open a game and put stress on even the best defense. An improving but still erratic passer, he can also be a difference-maker in a negative way.
Charles Woodson, strong safety: Woodson's play in the exhibition season was minimal, but he believes, as do his coaches and teammates, that he still has his Hall of Fame ball skills (and ball-stripping skills) at age 36.
Denarius Moore, WR: The Raiders would like to see more consistency from Moore. But fact is, he remains the wide receiver most likely to come up with a big play (84 receptions for 1,359 yards and 12 touchdowns in 28 games and 25 starts).
Darren McFadden, RB: Getting McFadden back on track is the mission of new offensive coordinator Greg Olson, and with good reason. Since McFadden arrived in 2008, the Raiders are 10-2 when he rushes for 100 or more yards and 20-48 when he doesn't or is out with injury.
Sio Moore, LB: A third-round draft pick out of Connecticut, the Raiders instantly made Moore a starter at strongside linebacker. Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver likes his "position flexibility," meaning he can rush the passer, play the run and play in coverage.
-- Jerry McDonald

BIG DATE: SEPT. 15
-- VS. JACKSONVILLE
With playoff teams Indianapolis and Denver coming on the road in Weeks 1 and 3, the Raiders are looking at 0-3 if they can't beat one of the supposed easy marks on their schedule in their home opener.


what they're saying

Bill Williamson,
ESPN.com: There just isn't enough talent in Oakland. The Raiders are beginning a rebuilding phase and there are lots of holes on the roster. The club is counting on late-round draft picks to contribute at key spots. That is not a good sign for the immediate future. Prediction: Fourth in AFC West
Pat Kirwan, CBSSports.com: It's almost unfair to evaluate Dennis Allen and his staff in this situation. Raiders fans are loyal, but this season will test Raider Nation. Prediction:
Fourth in AFC West