In 2013, the Green Bay Packers will have five players who started at least one game at cornerback in 2012 and four who started five or more games. Injuries were primarily to blame for the high volume of players starting, as Sam Shields missed six games with an ankle injury and Davon House was held out with a shoulder injury early in the year. The Packers' tendency to use five defensive backs as a base defense was another factor. However, one player who made a massive impact at the position was rookie Casey Hayward, who finished third in the voting for Defensive Rookie of the Year after intercepting six passes.
With all that talent and starting experience on the field at the position, one can imagine that training camp will be fun for cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt this year. One player who has made his desire to start very clear is Hayward, who started out excelling in the slot before playing well on the outside for several games, including seven starts combined. In fact, he told Paul Imig of Fox Sports Wisconsin that Whitt intends to let the best players earn the starting cornerback positions in training camp:
"It'll be an open competition, and I'll be ready for it ... I'll prove that I can play outside now and not just the slot."
Considering Hayward's play in 2012 and his confidence now, it would seem foolish to assume that he will be relegated to slot duty in 2013. What will be interesting, however, is the various combinations of starters who could be covering wide receivers for Dom Capers in the fall. Let's take a look at a few of these possibilities and how the depth would shift players around on passing downs.
Scenario 1: Tramon Williams, Sam Shields start
This was the situation for much of the first part of the season, as the veteran Williams and Shields started on the outside. Hayward was the primary slot corner, coming in on passing downs, and this would likely be the case again here.
Scenario 2: Williams, Hayward start
In this case, you would likely see Hayward's role become the same as how he played during Shields' absence. Hayward starts at right cornerback on the outside when the Packers line up in their base defense. When moving to the nickel, Sam Shields would take over on the right side as Hayward moves into the slot.
Scenario 3: Shields, Hayward start
The Packers have played exactly one game in the past three years without Williams starting - week two of the 2011 season, so it would be very strange to see number 38 not in the starting lineup. What is even more challenging is to guess at what his role would be when he does see the field; would he jump in on the outside and shift Hayward into the slot? Or would the Packers try to see what Williams can do in the slot himself? I can't remember him playing inside at all, and he certainly has not done so with Hayward and Charles Woodson present in recent years.
Scenario 4: Hayward, House start
This is probably the most off-the-wall possibility (Jarrett Bush's presence excluded, of course), but it's not entirely out of the question. After all, House was playing like the team's best corner through the first half of training camp in 2012 and looked like a lock to start in week one before his shoulder injury. If he and Hayward earn starting jobs, do you bring Shields or Williams off the bench first?
In either of the last two scenarios, the mind immediately begins to think about how Williams would handle playing a backup or nickel role and whether the Packers would look to move his big contract if that were the case. Certainly keeping Williams would help solidify the depth at the position, but it's tough a pill to swallow keeping player with an $8.5 million cap hit off the field.
One thing is clear, however: Hayward sounds like a player who will accept only the best from himself:
"I want to start outside ... I feel like I can be an outside guy now full-time."