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Woodson comes down from Canton

It wasn't like he was wearing No. 26 in stripes, but seeing Pro Football Hall of Famer Rod Woodson on the field Tuesday morning wearing a Bengals ballcap and T-shirt would have thrilled any fan of Who Dey nation of a certain age.

It certainly did the defensive backs he is helping coach this week in the Bengals mandatory minicamp and in the early stages of the training camp that starts in six weeks. At 45 years of age and fresh off last year's first-ballot election to Canton, the 5-11, 205-pound Woodson still looks like he could play on passing downs. When asked if he had his 19th defensive back on an already teeming depth chart, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said, "He's a pretty good one."

How good? In 15 seasons as a Pro Bowl cornerback and later as a Pro Bowl safety Woodson had 71 interceptions, the third most of all-time.

"I hope I can get him in that film room and try to get some of his tactics," said cornerback Adam Jones after his first practice with Woodson. "Hopefully that will make me a better player. Just getting him in there (the film room) so he can tell me some of his secrets or tendencies when he watches film. He's got so many interceptions he must have watched film to get those interceptions. He's one of the best of all time. It's always good to get in there and try to pick somebody's brain. You can't do nothing but get better."

It may have seemed like Woodson played forever, but none of these 18 DBs were playing in the NFL when Woodson retired from the Raiders in 2003. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph knows him as an NFL Network analyst as well as an all-time great and he came away impressed with his first meeting with Woodson on Tuesday.

"He's smart. You can tell just from talking to him, seeing different things that you don't know that you thought you knew," Joseph said.

Woodson and Joseph got into it pretty deep Tuesday as they talked about the need for giving quarterbacks different looks.

"Because the quarterbacks in the league are so good, if you show the same thing all the time, they're going to pick you apart," Joseph said.

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has always raved about Woodson, everything from his brains to his athleticism to his toughness. Lewis first worked with Woodson in Pittsburgh in the mid-1990s when Lewis was the linebackers coach and Woodson was a perennial Pro Bowl cornerback. Lewis then lured Woodson to Baltimore when he was the defensive coordinator for the Ravens and made him a safety on the stingiest defense of all time for the 2000 Super Bowl champs.

"I've been fortunate to be around a lot of players that impacted me that I've coached or been in the room with in Rod's case in two different places. He's one of the best football players I've been around," Lewis said. "As I told those guys I wouldn't be here in this job if it wasn't for guys like him and what he did and how he went about his job, which helps you coach guys on how to do their job. To see a guy who led by example, was the most athletically talented player in the room, the smartest player and the most competitive player in the room says a lot."

With his children older, Woodson said he began thinking more seriously about getting into coaching ("It's something I always wanted to do," he said) and he called Lewis late last season. Lewis remembered and called Woodson a few months ago to offer him a coaching internship for the mandatory minicamp and training camp.

"I said, 'You know what, I think I'm going to take you up on it.' I want to see if this is what I want to do," Woodson said. "It has to be in my heart."

TV is close enough to his heart that he can't coach the last part of camp because of his on-air commitments. Lewis says the biggest question is if Woodson can put up with players that don't give as much as he did. But he says Woodson should get the answer during this experience.

"The only way to do it is to do it," Lewis said. "He's going to commit himself to do it. Only thing he can experience is training camp and this. He'll know. He'll have a great idea of it."

Woodson enjoys mixing with players at the network, but he feels like he should do more.

"I just think I can impact them more on a day-to-day basis," Woodson said. "I've got a lot of knowledge that was given to me through my playing from players and coaches. I feel I should give that back. It's harder to give back when you're away. When guys come through the network, I can spend a day or so with them, but you can't really impact them. You can maybe give them a tip of knowledge, but on a day-to-day basis you really can't impact them."

He'll certainly have an impact on Joseph and Leon Hall, guys he has called on air the best cornerback tandem, not Darrelle Revis and any other guy.

"These guys are solid players and they're only going to get better; they're still young," Woodson said. "They've got a lot of upside to them. I know how good they are. Seeing them live, everything I saw on tape is ditto."

Certainly Woodson sounds like a coach when it comes to Jones.

"We know he's a great talent," Woodson said. "Can he take advantage of this opportunity that's been given him again? We know he's gifted. Now he has to learn the system and learn the terminology, get back out there and start playing. ... He still has the explosion."

Once upon a time there was a chance that No. 26 would be in stripes. In the winter of 1997 when Woodson's defensive coordinator in Pittsburgh, Dick LeBeau, moved to the Bengals, LeBeau ran Woodson's free-agent workout at Purdue. Woodson said Tuesday he would have signed here if Riverfront Stadium had grass.

"I wanted to get away from Astroturf for awhile. Three Rivers Stadium was something else," Woodson said. "So I went out to natural grass with the 49ers. It got muddy and nasty at the end of the year, but it was still better on my knees."

Thirteen springs later, No. 26 is here.

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