Earlier this offseason, the Green Bay Packers released veteran defensive back Charles Woodson. Woodson, who missed nine regular season games in 2012, returned to where his career began, the Oakland Raiders, signing a one-year contract. The Packers either felt discouraged by Woodson’s age (37 in October), or felt confident in what they have in the defensive secondary. Last season, Green Bay won seven of nine games which Woodson missed. Packers’ general manager Ted Thompson should feel quite confident with what the Packers possess at Woodson’s former primary position: cornerback.
Woodson, who was the 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, recorded 39 interceptions, 11.5 sacks, forced 15 fumbles, and scored nine of his 11 career defensive touchdowns in his seven year career with the Pack. The versatile defensive back, who has primarily played cornerback in his NFL career, leaves a Packer defensive secondary which could be better off at corner without him.
At cornerback, the Packers are very deep. The Packers’ top players at corner includes Casey Hayward, Davon House (26 tackles in 9 games), Sam Shields (12 passes defended, 3 interceptions), and Tramon Williams (22 career interceptions). Also competing for roster spots at cornerback includes veteran Jarrett Bush, rookie Micah Hyde, and free agent pick-ups Loyce Means, James Nixon, and Brandon Smith.
As noted in yesterday’s article regarding how the Packers will replace recently released linebacker Desmond Bishop, there are strengths and weaknesses to pick out in each player. For the sake of keeping this short and simple, we’ll analyze what Hayward, House, Shields, and Williams each bring to the Packers-and what they lack as well.
Hayward, on paper, was outstanding for Green Bay last season, recording six interceptions as a rookie. Problem is though he is a defensive back best suited for the nickel defense, as he had tremendous trouble last season defending receivers in man coverage. Nearly all of Hayward’s interceptions were from playing in zone coverage, meaning he was an outstanding role player in the defensive secondary. Six interceptions are great, but fans shouldn’t count on Hayward becoming the NFL’s next shutdown corner like Woodson or Darrelle Revis.
Davon House has shown flashes of greatness, as he has an excellent blend of physicality, athleticism, and speed, which is very comparable to former Packer standout Al Harris. In his first two NFL seasons though, similar to Harris’ final two seasons in Green Bay, House has battled the injury bug, missing 19 of his first 32 career regular season games. Last year in training camp, House was a standout player and a legitimate candidate to become a starting cornerback. Unfortunately, House injured his shoulder in a preseason game against the San Diego Chargers, missed the first six games of the 2012 season, and never got back into the groove he had going in training camp. It’s hard to rate House’s ability, so fans should keep a close eye on this kid. He could be special if he can stay healthy.
Sam Shields is arguably the Packers’ best one-on-one cover corner, as his combination of speed and length makes him a very valuable asset in man coverage. Shields has shut down corner ability, but he needs to add some serious bulk to his skinny frame. Even for a defensive back, Shields is too thin and frail, and doesn’t have the killer instinct or ball-hawking skills similar to Woodson to make the big tackle in the open field. He is a top cover corner at best, but nothing more.
Lastly, Tramon Williams, the old man of the defensive back bunch (30), can look like the NFL’s best cornerback one day, then one of the NFL’s worst the next day, meaning he is inconsistent. When the Packers won Super Bowl XLV in 2010, Williams was a menace who played at an All-Pro level in the Green Bay secondary. Williams has the ability to revert back to that all-star caliber defensive back, and without Woodson, the Packers are counting on Williams more than ever before to become the veteran leader for a young position group in 2013.
With the remaining cornerbacks, Jarrett Bush is best-suited for special teams, rookie Micah Hyde will have a legitimate chance to grab a roster spot, James Nixon and Brandon Smith are unknowns who could surprise Packer fans, and former Canadien Football Leaguer Loyce Means adds a lot of speed in training camp competition (sub-4.4 40 in a March workout).
Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at the Packers’ safeties and what to expect in Part II’s version of life after Woodson.
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