Corners Are Aces Up Capers' Sleeve vs. Saints

What the Packers potentially lack in pass rush they make up for in pass coverage with Tramon Williams, Charles Woodson and Sam Shields. Those three players will play a critical role on opening night against Drew Brees and the Saints.

In the hallway that connects the Green Bay Packers' locker room to the tunnel entering Lambeau Field, the team's defensive coaches were talking to a handful of reporters after Tuesday's practice.

Leaning against one wall was esteemed defensive line coach Mike Trgovac. It's been a tough camp for "Trgo," and he looked exhausted. Standout Cullen Jenkins signed with Philadelphia in free agency, presumed replacement Mike Neal is out with a knee sprain and C.J. Wilson and Lawrence Guy have missed time with concussions.

If Neal can't be a major contributor in Week 1 against the pass-happy Saints, can Trgovac's unit generate a pass rush from anyone other than B.J. Raji?

"Obviously," Trgovac said, "(Neal is) a good pass rusher but some of the things that we do, there's times where we're more the set-up people and stuff like that. Obviously, you'd like to have him out there. But ... what's your question?"

On the other side of the hall, looking like a guy without a care in the world, was one of the NFL's top young assistants, cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt. In his opinion, Charles Woodson is the best defensive player in the game because of his unparalleled versatility, Tramon Williams is the best cornerback in the league and Sam Shields would have been the steal of last year's draft had he been drafted and is primed to have a "great" second season.

"Let me just say this: 2010, there was not a corner better than him. Period," Whitt said of Williams, who intercepted six passes last season and added another three during a brilliant playoff run. "There was not one player that covered better than him. Now, I take Woodson out of that equation because Woodson goes to the top defensive players because of what we ask him to do. You take Woodson out of that equation and you put what Tramon did in 2010 and put it against anybody else and you just look at it. Look at the numbers, look at the timely plays, look at the touchdowns he gave up, look at interceptions. Look at all of it. You tell me who's the best corner of 2010. Now, who's going to be the best of 2011? I don't know. You've got to go play it. We've got to go prove it again. But in 2010, it wasn't even close. It wasn't even close who was the best."

Throw in whoever emerges as the fourth cornerback after Thursday night's final preseason game against Kansas City and the Packers have the kind of depth necessary to match up against the high-powered Saints in a made-for-TV showdown to open the regular season on Sept. 8.

Last season, Drew Brees finished third in the NFL with 4,620 passing yards, second with 448 completions and tied for second with 33 touchdowns. He had four receivers catch at least 34 passes, led by Marques Colston's 84 catches for 1,023 yards and seven touchdowns.

"When you look at them last year, they ran four wides," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "They'd run four wides and a back or four wides and a tight end. They haven't used a lot of it in the preseason, but I'm sure there's a number of things in the preseason that they don't want to show. Yes, it's a base part of their package. They like to spread you out. If your team has a hard time when you're spread out, you're going to have a hard time against New Orleans."

You're going to have a hard time against Brees if you can't pressure him, and the Packers' defense has mounted an alarming lack of pressure in the preseason. While Clay Matthews is one of the most dangerous pass rushers in the game and Raji led all NFL nose tackles, where else will the rush come from? Fortunately, those three cornerbacks give Capers the ability to create pressure through scheme rather than personnel in case of emergency.

"It all works together," Capers said of pressure and coverage. "I've been involved with teams that maybe our coverage wasn't the strength of the team but we had an outstanding pass rush so those guys get a feel of how long they have to cover. If you're not generating as much pressure up front, they've got to cover them longer, so you better be pretty good at covering. Those are the things that you have to reach a happy medium on because if you go crazy trying to pressure all the time, then you've got the pressure on those cover guys and sooner or later you're going to have a breakdown there and it ends up resulting in a big play.

"Hopefully, we can find that happy medium where we can pressure enough to where we're not giving up big plays. I think you've got to be careful going overboard. My experience is, if you've got to constantly bring five or six, there are times it's going to jump up and bite you."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at

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