Most of the 2014 Green Bay Packers off-season has been highlighted by the free-agent addition of the Julius Peppers. Not to be overlooked so far is the return and under-the-radar performance from cornerback Casey Hayward. Hayward missed most of 2013 due to injury, and is looking to regain the form of his six interception rookie season this year.
Before playing his college ball at Vanderbilt University, Hayward played quarterback and defensive back while attending Perry High School located in Perry, GA. The Georgia native spent time back in his home state over the team's month-long vacation before reporting to camp Friday. The former All-State back still continued to visit his doctor after being bothered by a tumultuous hamstring in his second season.
"I've been feeling great with me working back in Atlanta," Hayward said Tuesday via Packers.com. "I just really started feeling like close to really a hundred (percent). I feel great right now going out there the last three days."
Monday juiced things up for Packers players with it being one of the 15 padded practices days that head coach Mike McCarthy mentioned on the first day of Training Camp. After the first day of contact, players will have the day off Tuesday before practicing the next three straight, followed by Family Night kicking off Saturday evening at Lambeau Field.
"It's a day we needed. We get to go home, sleep in our own bed, get messages and stuff. Hopefully it brings back our body for these next three, four days." Hayward said.
For most of his professional playing career, Hayward has played mostly at the nickel spot in Dom Capers' base 3-4 defense while sitting behind starters Tramon Williams and Sam Shields. During his rookie season in 2012, he shined at the position, intercepting six passes and finishing third in NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year voting. According to Pro Football Focus, opposing quarterbacks had a passer rating of just 31.1 against him, which was the lowest against any corner in the entire league. This year, he's ready to play whatever role the team has for him on the defensive side of the ball.
"Anytime I can just be on the field. I can play outside, if they need me to play inside, I'm just ready for all roles. I think it just makes me a better player because I'm versatile," he explained. "I can play inside outside ... playing in the box and outside the box. I just think it's going to make me a more valuable player."
Hayward will head into the season reverting back to his role as the third cornerback on the depth chart behind Shields and Williams. Williams is entering his eighth NFL season, while Shields is only 26 and just signed a new contract this past summer. Williams will be a free agent in 2015, and if Hayward demonstrates that he's ready for the full-time starting job, he could push the team to part ways with the veteran. Being able to show not only that he's ready to take over the job and be more than just a slot player is what Hayward is working toward.
"Just going back from previous camps, this is probably the most I've been outside now. He [Joe Whitt and/or Dom Capers] just gives me opportunities to really work outside because you really never know what happens with injuries or anything. He knows what kind of player I am, he knows I can play inside or outside, and I'm showing that right now during this camp."
With this being his third season, Hayward is looking to get jump back on the defensive back scene league-wide. Early indications from camp show the he's healthy and ready, now it's about performing during the regular season to get back to his 2012 self.
"They all know I can play outside, now I'm just getting the opportunity to show it and try to get back to my rookie form."