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Reggie Nelson knows no one can fill Charles Woodson's shoes, but he's gonna try

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Guys like Charles Woodson don't grow on trees. Leader, elite talent, veteran presence, future Hall of Famer. Many of his qualities are irreplaceable. His position, however, is one that must be replaced by someone. That someone turns out to be Reggie Nelson.

"Trust me, you can't replace Charles Woodson at all," Nelson said via conference call Thursday. "Only guy I can be is Reggie and continue to play my game and getting better. My name might not mean much compared to Charles Woodson, so I can't come in worried about filling his shoes. He had one heck of a career. Talking about a Hall of Famer, so it's nothing but respect for Charles. All's I can do is come in and do what Ken [Norton Jr] and Jack [Del Rio] ask me to do and play my game and continue to go get that ball."

Nelson's path in free agency going on 33 was very similar to that of Charles Woodson when he found himself a free agent at the age of 36. Nelson spent the past six seasons as the everyday starting free safety in Cincinnati, while Woodson had spent seven seasons as the Packers everyday starting corner prior to missing half his final season in Green Bay with his second broken clavicle.

Woodson's 2013 free agency period was a long one. He wasn't getting much interest in him with regard to long term deals or guaranteed money. That's when he decided a return to Oakland was his best option. And thanks to tremendous fan support, including a large welcoming party at team headquarters, Woodson's and the Raiders' decision was an easy one.

Nelson is coming off his best season, while Woodson was an All Pro in his last healthy season prior to becoming a free agent. Still, the NFL is a young man's game, especially when you're talking about defensive backs who have to keep up with speedy wide receivers in a league catered to the passing game more than ever before. So, players past 30, even those who tied for the league lead in interceptions, don't have teams fawning over them.

While he may not be able to fill Woodon's shoes, Nelson can certainly follow in his footsteps. No better way to do that than to play under the same coaches who worked with Woodson last season, and in the case of defensive backs coach Marcus Robertson, had the full endorsement of Woodson himself as the only returning member of the previous coaching staff.

Overall, the coaching staff, especially on the defensive side, is filled with great former players.

"I still have work to do. It's a lot of years [of playing experience on the coaching staff] played in that building," said Nelson. "Ken Norton played, Marcus played, Jack played. I'm just anxious to learn from these guys and keep learning. You always can learn something new to the game and something excitement that can give you that burst. And [assistant defensive backs coach] Rod [Woodson]... I'm so excited to be part of the Oakland Raiders and to learn from that coaching staff. Like I said, I can't wait to keep scratching with them and be a part of something."

Woodson joined the Raiders at age 36 and played until he was 39. That makes Nelson, who will turn 33 at the beginning of the season, look like a young buck. It also should act as proof that with talent and work ethic, he should be able to take the baton from Woodson. Even if that's not an unenviable responsibility.