Skip to main content
Carolina Panthers

Xavier Woods returns to his football "sanctuary"

Xavier Woods

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Xavier Woods said he doesn't carry any distractions when he's on the field.

He takes a breather from personal stressors when he's in practice, he said. Reuniting with the Panthers at Wofford has been good for him, after the sixth-year safety had to miss this year's OTAs due to a personal matter.

"It's kind of like being back at home," Woods said. "This is like our sanctuary really. As football players, just to be able to come out here and put everything in the back of your brain, what you've got going on in your life – out here is our sanctuary, where we get to just release."

Woods signed with the Panthers in March after starting every game with the Vikings last season, when he totaled 108 tackles – 72 solo – and added a career-best three interceptions to his stat line. Before then, he spent four seasons with the Cowboys, starting at nickel before transitioning to a starting safety role.

In his new home with Carolina, Woods is concerned with one goal: Making the playoffs.

"Bottom line, winning takes care of everything," Woods said. "I could not have a stat, and (if) we're winning, that's all that matters. I mean that. I want to win now. I'm tired of losing."

Woods helped Dallas to a playoff berth in 2018, when the Cowboys won a wild card matchup against the Seahawks but lost to the eventual NFC champion Rams in the divisional round. The atmosphere of postseason play lingers Woods' mind, and he said he wants to live it again.

Xavier Woods and Donte Jackson

The 27-year-old Woods is among the oldest on Carolina's depth chart at safety, and he carries a level of poise that head coach Matt Rhule said he expects to see permeate across the secondary.

"You can tell he's a veteran player," Rhule said. "(He) knows a lot and is definitely going to bring a lot to our offense. It's the little things too. It's the communication. It's discussing what he saw after the play. His confidence will be felt by everybody."

Woods said he often passes along the knowledge he's gained from playing alongside six-time Pro Bowl safety Harrison Smith in Minnesota, and he also shares experiences he's been through as a five-year veteran with three stops under his belt.

Woods said he's been helping Jeremy Chinn, the Panthers' leading tackler in 2021, grow into a leadership role in his third year. Woods said he felt like guiding Chinn and the rest of the Panthers' young secondary into leadership was part of the reason he was brought to Carolina, and he's taking the role seriously.

"I see that Chinn is stepping up, trying to be a leader, and I let him," Woods said. "I just let him do his thing. He's been here, so him being a leader hopefully helps his game as well."

Just before camp started, Chinn expressed his own excitement to work with Woods.

"I think our communication is going to be great," Chinn said. "I'm ready to work with him."

Xavier Woods, Myles Hartsfield, Jeremy Chinn

As an experienced player in the league but a new guy in the locker room, Woods said he often takes questions to defensive back Myles Hartsfield, who he bounces ideas off of when they sit together in meetings. Woods said he's also made a connection with cornerback Donte Jackson, who Woods described as one of the most vocal leaders in the secondary.

Woods' approach to leadership shows a maturity that comes with the level of experience he's had in the league.

"We're all like puzzle pieces," Woods said. "You know where you'll fit in, you know when you've got to step up and talk. You know when you can let someone else lead. I believe that's what it is. You can have multiple leaders, but everyone can't do it at the same time."

Xavier Woods

On the practice field, Woods has also started his own trend: Wearing the NFL's Guardian Cap by choice.

Guardian Caps are a soft shell that adds extra padding around the helmet, meant to reduce impacts taken from hits to the head. Linemen, linebackers and tight ends are required to wear it for the first two weeks of camp, but Woods adds the extra layer on his own accord.

Woods said his decision to wear the shell started with his wife, who asked about the Guardian Caps she saw other players wearing. When he told her it was a requirement for their position groups to wear them, but that he didn't have to, she came back with a quick "Yes, you do," he said.

But he also sees the benefit for himself. He said reducing the effects from hits is a benefit, and he's open to talking about his decision to wear the extra layer of protection when his teammates ask.

"I think we all come to the conclusion that this game will have some effect on us," Woods said. "(It's) just to be able to reduce some of the effects on my brain as much as possible, especially at practice."

And it's worth it for Woods to be able to hit in practice, to feel the release from anything troubling his mind, and to play the game he loves.

"At the end, you may be tired, but just getting to hit somebody – like you have some pent-up frustration – this game is just fun," Woods said. "At the end of the day, being able to be out here, play a child's game and earn a king's ransom, it's great."

View some of the best action shots from Saturday's practice at Wofford.

Related Content