The Packers have stockpiled some young talent at the cornerback position in the past few seasons, and said goodbye to a few talented veterans along the way. With the parting of ways with Charles Woodson in free agency, the starting cornerback position opposite Tramon Williams will be up for grabs.
The battle seems to be between Sam Shields and former rookie sensation Casey Hayward, with Jarrett Bush being the dark horse candidate to push for the starting role. Don't sleep on Davon House, though, as he was playing the best of any of the young corners last preseason before suffering a shoulder injury. The Packers also added Micah Hyde to the group by drafting the former Iowa standout in the fifth round of the draft.
Let's take a look at some of the players that will be fighting to make the 53-man roster, and possibly valuable playing time this fall.
Locks to Start
The seven-year veteran out of Louisiana Tech has been a model of how to earn your way onto an NFL roster. The undrafted free agent, who made his name known through hard work on the practice squad, was named to the Pro Bowl in 2010. His 13 interceptions since the start of the 2010 season ranks No. 1 in the NFL, and he is the first undrafted player to record four or more interceptions in four straight seasons (2008-2011) in NFL history.
Williams recorded 53 tackles and only two interceptions in 2012. He will be looking to improve on his interception numbers this fall, and also become a veteran leader amongst a group of young playmakers in the secondary. If he can return to his 2010 form on the field (six interceptions, 20 passes defended), and become a vocal leader amongst a young defensive unit, the Packers could be in store for another Pro Bowl season from Williams.
Shields has been one of the bigger stories of the off-season, as he has been searching for a contract extension with the team after the Packers put a second-round tender on the restricted free agent this spring. Shields signed his one-year tender in June, worth $2.023 million, and if he can have solid year of production, he could be one of the next Packers to earn a long-term deal with the team.
The University of Miami product, who joined the team as an undrafted free agent in 2010, earned playing time as a cornerback in the nickel package as a rookie. Shields only played one year at corner at Miami, so his progress at the position has been impressive thus far in his career.
Shields recorded 23 tackles and three interceptions last season, after recording 45 tackles and four interceptions in 2011. There's no doubt Shields has potential to be a playmaker at cornerback in the NFL. If he can beat out Casey Hayward for a starting spot, he may get his chance to shine.
Hayward had a breakout season as a rookie in 2012. The Vanderbilt product (drafted in the second round, no. 62 overall, in the 2012 NFL Draft) recorded six interceptions and 53 tackles, while finishing third in the Rookie of the Year voting. Hayward's rapid progress may have been a key factor in the Packer's decision to let fan-favorite Charles Woodson part ways in free agency this off-season. With full off-season to work on his craft and understanding of the 3-4 defense, Hayward could be on the verge of another impressive season. He appears to be in good position to start opposite of Tramon Williams, but will be pushed by Sam Shields throughout most of training camp, and preseason.
The eighth-year veteran out of Utah State has been a special teams anchor for the Packers since being claimed off waivers in 2006 from the Carolina Panthers. The undrafted free agent has recorded over 20 tackles in each of the past four seasons, and has made appearances in the nickel and dime packages for the Packers defense.
Bush still has two more years on his contract (signed three-year, $5.25 million contact in 2012), and has made it clear he wants to be more than just a special teams player for the Packers.
Talked to #Packers CB Jarrett Bush. Hasn't been asked abt playing safety; says he could. Focused on winning starting CB/nickel job.— Justin Felder (@Justin_Felder) May 14, 2013
This tweet by Justin Felder of WLUK-TV in Green Bay is a promising sign if you believe that the right mental attitude can make a difference for a player. I think it's great that Bush wants to contribute more, and I think he has the ability to do so as a situational player in nickel and dime packages. I just don't see him pushing Hayward, Williams, or Shields for any significant playing time as a starter.
House has battled the injury bug for most of his two seasons with the Packers since being drafted out of New Mexico State in fourth round (131 overall) of the 2011 NFL Draft. House recorded 20 tackles in only seven games last season, including a six-tackle performance against the Cardinals in Week 9.
House has the size (six-foot-one, 195 pounds) to be a physical corner that fits well into the Don Capers 3-4 scheme, but he has to prove that he can stay healthy for an extended amount of time. I believe House is one of the better corners on the roster, but he has to stay healthy through training camp and preseason. If he doesn't, he will likely get buried in the depth chart behind the likes of Jarrett Bush, Sam Shields, and Micah Hyde.
Out of the Running
The rookie out of Iowa was drafted in the fifth round (no. 159 overall) of the 2013 NFL Draft, and signed a four-year; $2.3 million deal in May. The former Hawkeye had an impressive collegiate career, which saw him record 240 career tackles and seven interceptions. He bounced between both right cornerback and free safety during his junior year with the team, and was successful at both positions.
Hyde was a natural playmaker at Iowa, and shows good reaction time, recovery speed, and always seems to catch the ball at the height of his jump. Hyde may spend his first season on the practice squad simply due to numbers, but don't be surprised if he makes the 53-man roster next fall. He is a physical corner, who has the natural ball-hawking skills to become a solid NFL player.
The Packers signed Means to an undisclosed contract in April of this year. Means spent all of last season with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League, after being cut by the Buffalo Bills in July of last year. The undrafted free agent out of Houston recorded 85 tackles, eight interceptions, and 21 defended passes in his collegiate career.
Means is a smaller corner at five-foot-10 and 188 pounds, so he will have a steep challenge ahead of him in order to make the 53-man roster. I believe the drafting of Hyde will likely leave Means out of the equation unless he makes some serious noise in training camp.
The second-year player, undrafted free agent out of California (PA) signed a three-year, $1.485 million contact in January with the Packers. Nixon spent last preseason with the Arizona Cardinals.
Nixon appears to be a long shot to make the 53-man roster, but his experience on offense, defense, and as a kick and punt returner in college could help make him versatile enough to get a serious look by the organization.
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