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Double Threat
Tim Layden
November 18, 1996
Michigan's Charles Woodson is a dazzling two-way player, and he's not alone in his versatility
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November 18, 1996

Double Threat

Michigan's Charles Woodson is a dazzling two-way player, and he's not alone in his versatility

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BEST OF BOTH WORLDS

The 10 double-duty college players, including Orlando Pace (photo, below), who have had the greatest two-way impact this season.

Player

REGULAR POSITION

SECOND POSITION

Comment

1 Charles Woodson (Michigan)

CB

WR

Has averaged 25.3 yards per carry and 13.9 yards per catch. Has 44 tackles and leads the team with four interceptions.

2 Chris Canty (Kansas State)

CB

WR

All four of his catches have gone for first downs; has four interceptions and two forced fumbles. Also has returned punts and kickoffs.

3 Sam Madison (Louisville)

CB

WR

Two catches for 122 yards against Michigan State; has intercepted six passes and returned one for a touchdown.

4 Orlando Pace (Ohio State)

OT

DT

Has two tackles on goal line defense, 66 pancake blocks on offense. Buckeyes also have considered using him as Fridge-style fullback.

5 Chris Naeole (Colorado)

OG

DT

Made key fumble recovery in victory over Kansas.

6 Chad Morton (USC)

CB

RB

Freshman has 22 tackles and a 6.6-yards-per-carry rushing average.

7 Terry Jackson (Florida)

RB

LB

Had 88 all-purpose yards and made two tackles in win over Georgia.

8 Brent Taylor (Illinois)

OG

DE

Also has played short-yardage fullback for talent-starved Illini.

9 Nate Wayne (Mississippi)

LB

FB

Leads Rebels in tackles; caught touchdown pass against Idaho State.

10 Jason Taylor (Akron)

DE

TE

Only catch went for touchdown; has 64 tackles, 18 for losses.

Versatility, of course, is passeé, long since sucked into the machinery of progress. Specialization is the ticket. There are cable networks devoted to food, weather, science fiction, even golf, and Web sites for those and 10 million other topics. There are lawyers who handle only divorces and doctors who operate only on knees. And sports? The worst. Post-up power forwards, middle relievers, offensive defensemen. Football? Worst of the worst. Cover corners, rush ends, drive-blocking tackles, pass-catching running backs. Bronko Nagurski would blanch.

What a radical occurrence took place, then, one night last winter when Michigan coach Lloyd Carr was walking out of a dinner for Wolverines recruits with cornerback Charles Woodson, who was a freshman at the time. Spring practice was still several weeks off, but Carr had been left in a bind by the unexpected departure of star tailback Tshimanga Biakabutuka to the NFL after his junior season. As a freshman corner, Woodson had started 12 games and played brilliantly, but Carr remembered that Woodson had other talents. As a senior at Ross High in Fremont, Ohio, Woodson had played defensive back and tailback; he had rushed for 2,028 yards in 11 games.

Carr floated a suggestion. "Charles," he asked, "how would you like to play some tailback?" Not only would such a move give Michigan more depth at the position, Carr reasoned, but it would put the team's best athlete on the field for a few more snaps.

Woodson, a budding star with an NFL career waiting, was entrenched at corner; he was just a few months removed from an impressive clampdown on Ohio State's dazzling wideout Terry Glenn, in the Wolverines' 31-23 November upset that cost the Buckeyes a Rose Bowl berth. He contemplated the pounding administered to running backs and offered a compromise. "How about wide receiver?" Woodson said.

Michigan was thin there as well, having lost senior wideouts Amani Toomer and Mercury Hayes. Woodson is big (6'1", 192 pounds) and fast (4.4 for the 40), with terrific hands and rare instincts. Why not? thought Carr. In the first practice of the spring, Woodson ran crisp routes and made sensational catches. Carr recalled the scene last week, guffawing as if he had found money in his pocket. "I mean, it was the first day, and we all just went, 'Wow,' " said Carr. "He is really some athlete."

Woodson has played both ways in each of the Wolverines' nine games this fall, routinely shutting down receivers on defense and sending ripples of anticipation through the crowd—and the opposing defense—each time he enters the offensive huddle, usually 10 times per game. He has caught 10 passes for 139 yards and one touchdown and carried six times (mostly reverses) for 152 yards and another touchdown. In a 45-29 win over Michigan State on Nov. 2, Woodson caught second-quarter passes in each end zone at Michigan Stadium, one an interception, one a touchdown. "He would be an exceptional player if he played only offense or defense," says Michigan State defensive coordinator Dean Pees. "On defense, he's just a terrific corner. On offense, you have to adjust to him because they usually try to get the ball to him."

"Best player in college football, bar none," adds one of Woodson's teammates, nosetackle William Carr. "I can think of an awful lot of teams that would love to have Charles Woodson over somebody like Peyton Manning or Danny Wuerffel. You can just hear it when Charles comes onto the field: 'There's number 2.' "

On offense. On defense. Imagine that. And imagine this: Woodson isn't alone.

Single-platoon college football died in 1965, when liberal substitution rules were introduced and made iron men unnecessary. There were isolated exceptions: Leroy Keyes played running back and defensive back for Purdue in 1968 (he finished a distant second to O.J. Simpson in the Heisman Trophy voting), Gordie Lockbaum played tailback and cornerback for Holy Cross in 1986 and '87, and Wesley Walls played linebacker and tight end for Mississippi in 1988. By the early '90s, however, two-way players were as rare as wooden goalposts.

The situation has changed dramatically in the last two seasons. A year ago at least 12 players saw time on offense and defense in the same game; this year at least 23 have gone both ways. It's hardly an anonymous bunch, either (box, page 50). Among the current crop are five potential All-Americas: Woodson; Kansas State junior defensive back-receiver Chris Canty; Louisville senior defensive back-receiver Sam Madison; Ohio State junior offensive-defensive tackle Orlando Pace; and Colorado senior offensive guard-defensive tackle Chris Naeole. The two-way group also features a key player on the No. 1-ranked team in the country—sophomore running back-linebacker Terry Jackson of Florida. Illinois junior Brent Taylor has played three positions: his customary spot at offensive guard, pass-rush defensive end and short-yardage fullback. USC redshirt freshman Chad Morton rushed for 143 yards on 13 carries in a Sept. 14 victory over Oregon State and played a few downs at cornerback in the same game. Trojans coach John Robinson says he expects to use sophomore cornerback Daylon McCutcheon as a running back from time to time next fall. "I think it's coming," Robinson says of the trend toward two-way players.

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