Jarrett Bush has spent the last three years quietly transitioning from poor performer and running joke to solid performer. He still hasn't shown anything to indicate that he can play in man-to-man coverage with NFL starting receivers on a consistent basis, but he's been a very reliable backup and a special teams ace over the last couple of seasons. He's no longer a liability and absolutely has a place on the team.
But is that place at starting outside cornerback? If just about everyone here at Acme Packing Company had their way, it probably wouldn't be, but that was his position on the first day of training camp. He moved inside on some nickel packages, but there was no mistaking who had the starting job on Day 1 between him and Sam Shields.
I'm not entirely sure how we got to this point. I'm even less sure why Mike McCarthy, Dom Capers and Joe Whitt have come to this decision, and exactly what they hope to accomplish. This could mark a change in scheme, it could be a designed wake-up call for Shields, or it could mean that the staff really thinks that Bush is a better outside cornerback than Shields in man-to-man coverage.
Without seeing a preseason game and knowing how Capers plans on mixing up (or not mixing up) coverage schemes this season, it's difficult to make a judgment on this decision. If the Packers are going to mix in some cover-2 and zone blitzes, Bush makes a lot of sense. He is a better player in zone than Shields right now and has also proven adept at rushing the passer from slot corner blitzes. There are reasons to play Bush over Shields.
But if Bush is going to be asked to play lots of man on the outside? I am going to go far enough to call this a disaster, and I pray that it is simply McCarthy's way of telling Shields that he does not have job security. For all of Shields' faults, I will take him over Bush in man coverage on the outside every day. Bush is the more intelligent player, the better tackler and the better player in zone, but Shields is much better than Bush in man on the outside.
Only one day of camp has passed and we don't know what the staff's intentions are at the cornerback position, but if the endgame is Bush starting and playing the exact same way as Shields did last season, I am very much against that. Hopefully Shields legitimately wins his job back, or Bush is the starter because Capers plans on using a lot of zone blitzes.
Here are my co-writers' takes on this development.
Sam Shields is a prime example of elite physical tools with untapped potential. He has blazing speed, but doesn't always stay with the receivers he's assigned to cover. He has good hands and ball skills, but shies away from tackling. It's why he's so exciting and frustrating at the same time. Jarrett Bush, on the other hand, has quietly grown from that guy that everybody prays doesn't see the field on defense to someone who's starting during day 1 of training camp. How and why did this happen? I think that, as was the case with a lot of positions on day one, the Packers appeared to roll out their starting defense from the playoff game (after all, C.J. Wilson played with the first team in the base defense, and he started that game). Remembering that Bush and Shields split time against the Giants may explain a bit about why this decision was made.
Bush really is a better corner than he's given credit for around APC, and he's quietly developed into a serviceable depth corner. The problem is that Shields has the potential to be so much more, but he's not progressing as hoped or expected. Here's hoping that the shakeup gives Shields the motivation he needs to step up his game through the rest of training camp.
It’s time for Sam Shields to step up. I know what we all want Shields to be and what we hope he can be, but let’s take a moment to see what he is at this point. He’s a guy with great speed and decent size. He’s a guy who started out as a WR in college but couldn’t catch and couldn’t run routes so in his last year he was moved to CB, but never really got much playing time. He was a guy who was brought in for a specific role, but that role was not starting corner. No, he was brought in to be a return man and possibly a gunner.
He was supposed to be the guy that made Jarrett Bush expendable in the first place! But then he couldn’t catch a kick or punt to save his soul and never really worked out to be a good gunner. He did display some surprising skill at corner and so was able to put together a magical rookie year. The rest is history. The problem is that magic has run out. As much as probably 90% don’t want to admit it, Bush was more consistent in coverage than Shields last year. Shields made a pick or two and showed a flash here and there, but when it came to consistently being in coverage and holding down the fort on a down in and down out basis, Bush was better. Search your feelings, you know it to be true. That’s why he was out there instead of Shields on Thursday. That’s why he’s competing for a starting CB spot. That’s why Sam Shields has got to step up and prove that he’s a part of this team’s future.
I’m not saying Bush was great. Bush doesn’t have much upside to him and he’s not young. What he is though is a guy who is able to grow into a role with the right amount of practice and time on the field. Shields is an unknown right now. We may have to face the fact that his regression in 2011 might be more than just a simple regression; it might be that the 2011 Sam Shields is the real Sam Shields. If he can’t prove otherwise than Bush is probably the better option between the two. It’s not ideal, but with the right pass rush it should be able to work.