Other than a fourth-quarter touchdown allowed against Philadelphia, Shields has played almost impeccably while playing practically every snap as the Packers' third cornerback. During last week's game against Buffalo, Shields spent about half of the game matched up one-on-one against Buffalo star Lee Evans. Not a single pass was thrown Evans' direction.
"He covered his guy. He just wasn't open," cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt told Packer Report, noting Shields' improved confidence and aggression from Week 1. "It wasn't any tricks and we didn't play Cover-2 on him a lot. Now, we're going to face other teams that are just going to throw the ball up and see what happens."
There's a good chance that will happen on Monday night, when the Packers visit Chicago in a key NFC North showdown. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is one of the most talented passers in the game and he's got immense confidence in his young-and-improving receiving corps. He's exactly the type of quarterback you'd expect to zero in on the rookie to see if he's ready for prime time.
"I don't really concern myself with what they do," Whitt said. "I just want to make sure he's in the right place, doing the right thing, when that opportunity comes. A couple of those balls that they do get up there, I think he's in position to get them. He's doing the right things. Is he there? He's not there, but when he becomes what he can be, he's going to be a real good player for us."
By now, you know Shields' story. After starting off and on at wide receiver for his first three seasons at Miami, he was shifted to cornerback. He started 10 games as a senior, with no interceptions and two pass breakups.
That's not much of a resume, but his explosive speed made him a decent developmental prospect if he could earn his way onto the team playing special teams. While outsiders focused on Shields' inability to field punts, he blew past returning players Pat Lee and Brandon Underwood to be the third cornerback, which is practically a starting position in today's pass-happy NFL.
"You've got to take practice as the game, because when the game comes, it'll be easier," Shields said. "In practice, it's way more hard. You're going against Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, those are some of the top receivers around. Then you're going into a game — I don't want to say, they're not sorry, whoever you're against, but practice makes perfect, like everybody says. I take it as working hard, take it as a game. When the game time comes, just have fun. You're going to make mistakes. You can't think about it. You've just got to go out and just play football."
Shields is the antithesis of the stereotypical skill position player from "The U." He's quiet, and most of his answers last only a sentence or two. When he's made a play — like his third-down stop or his forced fumble against Buffalo — he hasn't pounded his chest or done one of those, "Hey, look at me" dances.
"When I came in, it kind of slowed down as being loud and all of that, because (head coach) Randy Shannon stopped all of that," Shields said. "When I came into UM, it was still there but Randy Shannon was trying to get it away and wanted us being disciplined. Learning from him, he gave me just, ‘Be confident. Be a humble person.' That's what I took from my four years of college was being humble and working hard at everything I do. Playing at UM, it was a lot of competition every day. It wasn't no, ‘That's your job.' It was always, one day, it's your job, the next minute, someone else has got it."
With that drive, Shields could be headed for big things. Whitt has said as much repeatedly over the last month or so.
"He has rare ability," Whitt said. "I've read people say that I said he was the best corner in the draft. No, he wasn't the best corner in the draft. He was the most talented corner in the draft. There's a distinct difference. Once he figures it out, the sky's the limit for this kid because he's so mature, and the way he approaches the game, he approaches it like a 10-year vet."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.