Notebook: Developing Talent

It takes coaching — and some luck — as we learned by watching Super Bowl XLV teams' cornerbacks. Packer Report's Bill Huber has that story, and The Sports Xchange's Len Pasquarelli adds some interesting news and notes.

First-round picks get all the hype.

But there's more to winning games than acquiring top college talent.

The Green Bay Packers are proof positive that the difference between winning and losing comes down to finding talent beneath every nook and cranny and having the right coaches in place to get that talent to blossom.

Just look at Super Bowl XLV — and the road to get there. The Packers flourished with two undrafted players at cornerback, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields, working under up-and-coming assistant Joe Whitt Jr.. It's almost inconceivable that the Packers would have even reached the playoffs with Pat Lee and Jarrett Bush as the second and third cornerbacks.

Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers shredded a Pittsburgh secondary that has tried and failed to upgrade its secondary in recent years. In 2010, the Steelers used a fifth-round pick on Crezdon Butler. In 2009, they used a third-round pick on Keenan Lewis and a fifth-round pick on Joe Burnett. At this point, it looks like they've swung and missed on all three picks. Burnett isn't even on the team.

So, with little to show for the draft picks and with veteran Ike Taylor likely to get a big offer whenever free agency begins, Pittsburgh went back to the well last month, taking Curtis Brown of Texas in the third round and The Citadel's Cortez Allen in the fourth.

"Ws we know, we've experienced as late as the Super Bowl that you can't ever have enough corner-type guys who can go out and cover," Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said after the Packers used a fourth-round pick on cornerback Davon House. "So much of what we do on defense is based on our coverage ability at the corner position to where you don't have to back a guy up all the time. We were very fortunate to have a guy like Sam Shields surface and play close to 800 plays for us this last year."

No fight in the Irish

Noted football factories Bethel (defensive lineman Michael Jasper), California, Pa. (cornerback Tommie Campbell), Florida A&M (Holcomb), Hampton (Ellis), Lehigh (guard Will Rackley), Montana (safety Jimmy Wilson), Montana State (offensive lineman Michael Person), Mount Union (wide receiver Cecil Shorts), Portland State (tight end Julius Thomas), Tennessee-Chattanooga (cornerback Buster Skrine), The Citadel (cornerback Cortez Allen), Slippery Rock (center Brandon Fusco), and Yale (fullback Shane Bannon), each had as many players drafted as powerhouse Notre Dame (tight end Kyle Rudolph).

Extra points

Ravens officials concede the team took a chance on drafting talented but troubled cornerback Jimmy Smith in the first round. They are confident, though, that the team's veteran makeup, and the locker room presence of established elder statesmen like Lewis and others will benefit the rookie cornerback. ... The Raiders certainly embrace the "need for speed" axiom: The choice of Miami cornerback Demarcus Van Dyke in the third round made it three straight years in which Oakland has taken the player who clocked the fastest 40-yard time at the combine. Van Dyke covered 40 yards in 4.28 seconds. In 2009, the Raiders picked wide receiver Jacoby Ford (4.22), and in 2008, the first-round selection was wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (4.25). ... Washington chose a league-high 12 players, the franchise's most picks since taking 12 in 1985, when the draft was 12 rounds. In the 17 seven-round drafts 1994-2010, Washington chose five or fewer prospects four times. They picked seven or more players just seven times. ... Grabbed by Jacksonville in the fourth round, Shorts was the highest Division II player taken since Tennessee drafted Wisconsin-Stout cornerback Tony Beckham in 2002, also in the fourth round. ... Tampa Bay has no plans for future knee surgery to address the knee problems of second-round pick and possible draft steal Da'Quan Bowers. But some Bucs officials feel that the former Clemson standout defensive end will be used more as a situational rusher, than an every-down player, as a rookie. ... With the switch back to a 4-3 in 2010, a lot of NFL observers are curious to see just how the Cleveland Browns use first-rounder Phil Taylor, the former Baylor behemoth a lot of scouts felt was best suited to the 3-4 nose tackle spot. The Browns, however, feel that Taylor and incumbent nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin will transition well to the 4-3 and provide solid inside push. ... It probably didn't help that he missed 34- and 41-yard field goals in the team's loss to Green Bay in the playoffs, but sources contend it was some quiet off-field bickering that could end the long career of kicker David Akers with the Philadelphia Eagles. Even though the Eagles designated Akers a transition player earlier in the spring, the team invested a fourth-round choice on Nebraska kicker Alex Henery. A 13-year veteran who has been with Philadelphia since 1999, Akers is among the game's highest paid kickers, and prefers a long-term deal. At 36, he isn't likely to get one. And there is a decent likelihood, NFL sources insist, that Philadelphia will rescind the transition tag and go with Henery instead.


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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.


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