CHARLOTTE — Xavier Woods already has some experience looking after kids. He's about to get more. And that doesn't just apply to his new job.
The Panthers signed the veteran safety early in free agency to fill a couple of important roles, adding a reliable free safety and communicator to a young group, which should also allow Jeremy Chinn to play to his strengths.
That's why the Panthers targeted Woods at the beginning of the negotiating period, locking down an established starter for a defense that caught his eye a year ago.
Asked why the Panthers appealed to him, he answered quickly.
"This defense," Woods said. "These guys were a top-two defense last year, and just being able to come in and hopefully be a help."
He has the ability to do that. Woods played as a traditional free safety his first four years with the Cowboys, playing the deep middle. But he expanded his role — and his knowledge of the game — last season while playing next to Vikings Pro Bowler Harrison Smith and adding responsibilities.
"Throughout the first four years of my career, I was basically just a free safety, deep middle and deep post. Last year I was able to do a little bit of everything," Woods said. "Playing alongside Harry, I learned a lot. I feel like it definitely elevated my game.
"I'd say my IQ grew, learning more about being able to play in the box and my run fits and coverages. Last year, it was a lot of defenses, able to play a lot of different coverages, and that helps."
While Smith is one of the game's best at the position, Woods was excited about the prospect of teaming with Chinn here.
"Jeremy is a young stud," he said. "He reminds me of Harry just from watching film of him. He's more athletic (than Harrison), and what he's done so far has been tremendous. I want to be a help to him and elevate his game a lot more. I know he has a lot of potential to be a Pro Bowler, an All-Pro type of player.
"I'm a smart player, and hopefully I can relay some knowledge to him that he can use to take it to another level."
Woods also adds some stability to the defensive backfield, a group that has already been singled out by general manager Scott Fitterer as one of the strengths of the team. The Panthers saw first-hand how Woods could impact a game last year, as he forced a fumble against Panthers wideout DJ Moore (a rarity for Moore), playing what Woods described as "one of my better games" in a Vikings' win here last October.
Turning 27 around the start of training camp, Woods also knows he'll be one of the elders in the defensive backs room. He didn't have to worry about that last year with the Vikings, playing with the 33-year-old Smith and 31-year-old cornerback Patrick Peterson.
Now, he's running with the 24-year-old Chinn, 26-year-old cornerback Donte Jackson, and a group of corners who haven't even hit their 25th birthdays, including Jaycee Horn and CJ Henderson. And with his experience, the Panthers hope he can help the defense communicate.
"I looked at that, and said, 'I'm the old guy now,'" Woods said with a laugh. "But that's a blessing. To have young guys that talented as this team has is a blessing.
"I'm not old either now; I still feel young."
It's good that he feels that way, because he has his hands full, on and off the field. He brought his wife Destiny and their young daughters when he came to Bank of America Stadium to sign his new contract, and the girls have a baby brother on the way later this month. "They keep me on my toes," Woods said with a grin as his daughters danced and played nearby.
While he was navigating his new workplace recently, he was also showing off his dad skills — like offering a drink or a snack or a toy at the right time to redirect and keep his daughters' attention, and being able to buckle kids into a stroller while carrying on a conversation. Multitasking is part of the job description for a young family, especially when you're playing zone at home as they will be soon.
Keeping track of that much young energy takes a lot of effort. But Woods has learned some important lessons, and is ready to share them with a younger generation.
View photos of Xavier Woods on set with the Panthers as he officially signs on Thursday.