The Green Bay Packers have had a busy training camp filled with numerous position battles, but the greatest position battle in camp may lie in the defensive secondary at the cornerback position. With nine players vying for 5-7 jobs in training camp, the battle is best for the growth of the team.
“Competition brings out the best”, cornerback Davon House said. “It is even deeper this year with the new guys and the guys from last year. It’s going to make us and the team better”.
Last season, the Packers defense allowed 218 passing yards per game (11th in NFL), and intercepted 18 passes (t-8th). Opposing quarterbacks threw 24 touchdowns against the Packers defense (16th), but only completed 55.1% of their passes (4th) and accumulated a 76.8 passer rating (4th).
Despite the release of veteran and former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Charles Woodson, the Packers defense shouldn’t skip a beat, as the Packers went 7-2 with Woodson out of the lineup.
“The men in the room decides who plays by the way they prepare, practice, take the tests, and perform”, Packers secondary coach Joe Whitt said. “That is not my decision, the competition does not change. The best ones will play, the next ones will watch”.
The 5’11, 191-pound Williams enters his 7th NFL season with the Packers, and the veteran of the Packers cornerback position group. The Packers signed Williams to the team’s practice squad at the end of the 2006 season—only months after the Houston Texans released the undrafted rookie free agent out of Louisiana Tech. Since making the Packers 53-man roster in 2007, Williams has missed only one game in his NFL career.
“He has set a standard of play for himself”, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said. “He is the poster child for what you need to do to become a significant player, and he is one of the ultimate professionals”.
In 95 career NFL games, Williams has registered 311 total tackles, two sacks, has defended 91 passes, intercepted 22 passes, and he has forced three fumbles. Williams was one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks in 2010, as he led the league with nine interceptions in the both the regular and post-seasons, en route to the Packers fourth Super Bowl victory in franchise history.
“He is one of our better cover corners”, Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji said. “When you watch film, you see how hard of a job he has on a week-to-week basis, and there is a reason he is our starting corner”.
Shields is entering his 4th NFL season since signing with the Packers as an undrafted rookie free agent out of the University of Miami (FL). One of the team’s most exciting defensive players, Shields burst onto the NFL scene during the Packers Super Bowl XLV title run. In the NFC Championship win over the Chicago Bears in the 2010 postseason, Shields became the first NFL rookie since 1982 to intercept two passes and record one sack in a playoff game.
“He has that edge to him”, McCarthy said. “He can run with anybody, and he is pretty much faster than anybody”.
A ball-hawking speedy cornerback with incredible cover skills, the 5’11, 184-pound defender has become the Packers most consistent cover corner. In 39 career NFL games, Shields has totaled 102 tackles, one sack, nine interceptions, and he has defended 28 passes.
McCarthy said he believes Shields has what it takes to help the Packers get back to the Super Bowl. “He has no memory, which is what you need to have as a championship-type cornerback”.
Expectations will be high for Hayward, the Packers second-year cornerback from Vanderbilt, in 2013. As a rookie last season, the 5’11, 192-pound Hayward intercepted six passes (t-5th in NFL), recorded 53 tackles, and defended 21 passes in an impressive NFL debut season.
Hayward intercepted 15 passes in college (t-most in school history), and his six interceptions last season was best among all NFL rookies in 2012. “He was outstanding”, McCarthy said. “He’s very comfortable out there (at cornerback), his route recognition and instincts are very good, and football comes very natural to him”.
Hayward has been out for nearly all of Packers training camp recovering from an abdominal injury, but durability shouldn’t be an issue for the young cornerback. At Vanderbilt, Hayward started in 37 games in his final three seasons for the Commodores. For the Packers last season, Hayward saw the field often, and appeared in all 16 regular season games.
Unlike Hayward, the 6’1, 195-pound House has had anything but a durable NFL career, as the cornerback has missed 21 of 32 regular season games due to injury since he was selected by the Packers in the 2011 NFL Draft out of New Mexico State.
“He looks good”, McCarthy said earlier in training camp regarding questions about House’s health. “He is in excellent shape and he is coming on, and he is playing with a whole different temperament and attitude”.
In 11 career games, House has recorded 26 total tackles, one sack, and he has defended five passes. House has the size, ability, and potential to become a do-everything cornerback in the NFL. House struggled in the Packers preseason opener last Friday against the Arizona Cardinals, surrendering a 38-yard touchdown reception to Cardinals wide receiver Andre Roberts. Only 24 -years-old, time is certainly on House’s side.
“Last week wasn’t me”, House said after practice earlier this week. “It may have been the worst game of my career. All I can do is put it behind me, and every day there is an opportunity to get better”.
House developed a case of food poisoning earlier in training camp, and he says he is still not 100 percent healthy. “I’m still battling dizziness”, House said. “If I’m out there though, I should compete and help our team win, and I need to just get back to how I used to play”.
House, who reportedly had been putting together a great training camp in 2012 before he injured his shoulder in the team’s preseason opener, said he is open to any kind of opportunity the Packers have for him. “My role is whatever Joe Whitt wants me to do”, House said. “Hopefully I can win a starting job, but whatever he wants me to do, I’ll do it”.
The Packers selected Hyde, a 6’, 197-pound rookie from Iowa, in the 5th round of the 2013 NFL Draft in April. For the Hawkeyes, Hyde played in 51 total games, including 38 consecutive starts in his final three collegiate seasons. Hyde won the Roy J. Carver Most Valuable Player Award as Iowa’s most outstanding defensive player in 2012.
“He is a smart kid, willing tackler”, Whitt said. “He understands football, and there are a number of things we like about him”.
Hyde was named 1st-team All-Big Ten as a senior after winning the Big Ten Conference’s Jack Tatum-Rod Woodson Defensive Back of the Year Award. In his Iowa Hawkeye career, Hyde recorded 240 total tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, defended 29 passes, totaled eight interceptions, and forced four fumbles.
“Since the first (training camp) practice, he has jumped out”, McCarthy said referring to Hyde. “His ability to play the football has jumped out, and he has excellent ball skills, and he is a very good anticipator”.
The 6’, 200-pound Bush is entering his 8th NFL season since the Packers signed him as an undrafted rookie free agent one week before the 2006 season. Despite intercepting a Ben Roethlisberger pass in Super Bowl XLV against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Bush is a liability at cornerback—but a reliable cornerstone on special teams.
In his seven-year career with the Packers, Bush has 150 total tackles, 1.5 sacks, has defended 22 passes, and has three interceptions. Bush has recorded double digit tackles on special teams in each of his seven NFL seasons, the first Packer ever to do so. Bush, a team captain, is sturdy too, as he has appeared in 110 of 112 possible NFL games.
Nixon, a 6’, 186-pound second-year player out of the University of California at Pennsylvania, returns to the Packers after spending the entire 2012 season on the team’s practice squad. Nixon played at Temple University before spending his final season at California, where he had primarily returned kickoffs on special teams, averaging 25.8 yards per return.
The Packers signed the 5’10, 188-pound Means in April, two years removed from football. After recording 85 total tackles and intercepting eight passes at the University of Houston, the Buffalo Bills signed Means as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2011. Before the 2011 regular season, the Bills released the cornerback, and Means played for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League.
Means reportedly recorded a 4.4 40-yard dash time before the Packers signed him, and McCarthy said Means is a “great example of not where you start, but where you finish” in football.
A 6’1, 205-pound prospect from Arizona State, Smith has yet to play in an NFL game. A wide receiver in college, the Carolina Panthers signed Smith as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2011 to play the same position. Smith spent time with the Seattle Seahawks during the 2011 preseason as well.
The Packers signed Smith earlier this offseason, and switched him from receiver to cornerback after reports spurned he has ran as well as a 4.37 40-yard dash and put together an impressive 40-inch vertical leap.
Favorites to Win Starting Jobs: Williams, Shields
Favorites to Make the Team/Practice Squad: Williams, Shields, Hayward, Hyde, House, Bush
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