Davon House, who didn't play a single snap of defense after being a fourth-round pick, will get the opportunity that labor unrest took away from Shields.
That makes April, May and June three of the biggest months of House's career.
"This offseason's going to be big for us, OK," cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said after the season. "He's going to be a player that has a great opportunity to get in there to show what he has. Everything's open. We're going to exhaust every possibility to make sure we can play high-level football."
When asked at midseason, Whitt said he didn't want to put House into the game until he had "an opportunity to polish him up" for a year. After the season, Whitt said House had "come a long way" and that he would have "felt comfortable" putting him into the lineup.
That was the message House heard from Whitt, as well.
"Keep progressing, keep getting better, keep picking up my play speed and big things can happen for me next year," House said.
House is cut from the same bolt of cloth as Tramon Williams and Shields. They're the height Whitt prefers — House is 6-foot while Williams and Shields are 5-11. House's comfort level is playing press coverage, same as Williams and Shields. All have playmaking mentalities and that innate knack for finding the football.
House's growth as a rookie was stunted by a hamstring injury suffered during training camp. At that point, he was battling Jarrett Bush and appeared to have moved ahead of Pat Lee to be the fourth cornerback. Missed practice time ended that shot at playing time, and once the regular season began, the team got into day-to-day mode with the focus on game preparation instead of roster battles. So, Bush served as the fourth corner all season.
"The reps that I got in, I made the best of it on special teams," said House, who was inactive for 12 games and played in just two, making one tackle on special teams. "Hopefully next year, use the offseason to build some strength up in my upper legs and stay healthy and, come preseason, see what happens."
The Packers' offseason program tentatively is set to begin on April 16. House knows there's plenty at stake. He could challenge Shields to be the third cornerback. Or, if Nick Collins' neck injury forces him to retire, one possible answer would be to move Charles Woodson into Collins' spot at safety, with Williams, Shields and House being a possibility as the top three cornerbacks.
"For me," House said, "I feel like those offseason reps are going to be my first reps I've taken in a long time because, during the season, I didn't really get any reps at all besides scout team, and that's not our plays. It's going to be my first time since camp, really."
What essentially was a redshirt season did nothing to diminish the confidence of a player who intercepted 11 passes at New Mexico State.
"We'll see next year," House said with a smile. "We'll see."
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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 email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.