Shields' Focus: Tackling Reason for Demotion

After a sophomore slump, Sam Shields is working hard to improve the phase of the game that put him behind — and keeps him behind — Jarrett Bush. Tackling might not be allowed during offseason practices, but that hasn't stopped him from taking a proactive approach.

The biggest thing is admitting there's a problem.

Sam Shields has that covered.

When Packer Report asked him on Tuesday what he needs to do to take the next step in his career, Shields said: "Just keep working on things that I need to work on that I didn't do well in (last season). I think tackling is my big part that I have to keep working on."

The numbers don't lie. Last season, 66 cornerbacks played at least half of his defense's snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Shields ranked 62nd in tackling efficiency, measured by tackle attempts per missed tackles. He was equal-opportunity bad, ranking 62nd against the pass and tied for 57th against the run.

For further perspective, Shields missed 10 tackles while playing 750 snaps. Of the cornerbacks who missed more tackles, none played fewer than 926 snaps (Carolina's Chris Gamble).

In some respects, Shields' tackling problems are easy to understand. Remember, he played wide receiver at Miami until his senior year, so last season was just his third year on defense after being the nation's 28th-ranked receiver coming out of Booker High School in Sarasota, Fla.

"It's just something that I never did before," Shields said.

There are three parts to tackling. The first is the willingness to tackle. The second is the putting yourself in position to tackle. The third is the actual tackling.

Shields says he's willing to stick his shoulder into a running back who outweighs him by 20 or 30 pounds. His lack of experience might have a role in the second factor and, as a byproduct, the third factor.

"Like anything else, you have to work on it," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said on Tuesday. "I think a big part of tackling is, first of all, understanding your leverage. Whether you're an outside-in player or inside-out, where you get in trouble is if you give a guy a two-way go. Then, it's being able to close ground and come under control. Where a lot of guys miss – Sam's certainly got the speed to close but it's when do I gather, come under control, use my leverage to put myself in the best position to get the guy on the ground."

It comes down to practice habits. Tackling has come under fire around the league, and a lot of it has to do with the limited hitting of training camp and the elimination of hitting through the offseason. That, however, doesn't mean a defensive player can't work on tackling while not actually tackling.

"The best tacklers I've been around, I go back and think of what they did is every day in practice. They burst to the ball and they got themselves in position to make the play," Capers said. "When they had the opportunities in the game, they'd get him on the ground. Guys that got casual about their leverage and didn't break down, they ended up missing."

The tackling was a black eye on Shields' second year in the league. That's why he found himself replaced on 50/50 downs — plays in which an offense is as apt to run the ball as it is to throw it — by Jarrett Bush in the playoff game. Shields really wasn't bad in coverage. Among the aforementioned 66 cornerbacks measured by Pro Football Focus, Shields allowed a passer rating of 87.1, which ranked a respectable 38th. He also ranked 38th by allowing a completion percentage of 58.2. By allowing a completion on every 11.2 plays in coverage, he ranked 31st in the league — but better than Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams. His numbers were about on par with 2010, when he yielded 57.4 percent completions and a 78.2 rating.

"I don't think covering and all was that bad," Shields said. "Only thing that was stopping me was tackling, and that's something that I have to keep working on that I haven't worked on (in the past). I've been a receiver. So, I'm going to work on it this offseason — however I can to help me tackle."

Because of tackling, Bush remains ahead of Shields on the depth chart during minicamp. Capers cautioned not to "read too much into that," and it's possible the offseason pecking order is being used to light a fire under Shields. Not only is Bush in the equation, but so is second-round pick Casey Hayward and 2011 fourth-rounder Davon House. Perhaps it's a coincidence. Perhaps it's the benefit of an offseason program. Perhaps it's pride. Whatever it is, Capers sees Shields attacking the line of scrimmage and doing all the right things.

Will it continue when the bullets are flying in August and beyond? Does a former wide receiver with blazing speed really have the stomach for the nitty-gritty part of the game?

"We think that, going into his third year, with the work here in the offseason, hopefully it's going to enable him to become more of a complete player where he can play on first, second or third down," Capers said. "He has made some progress there, but like all of these guys, you want to see him once we put the pads on in training camp because it becomes a different game. If they can work on getting themselves in position, use their leverage, come under control – all of those things – then hopefully we can see that carry over when the pads are on where a guy has the ability to take the guy down to the ground."

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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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