Hayward Has Woodson's Skills

While it's not fair to compare a second-round pick to a future Hall of Famer, Casey Hayward has a skill-set that's "similar" to that of Charles Woodson, one assistant coach said. Hayward, who has the seal of approval from Aaron Rodgers, has a chance to emerge as the vital No. 3 cornerback.

This Green Bay Packers cornerback has exceptional ball skills, yet he's not afraid to stick his nose into a running back. With a high football IQ and a voracious appetite for study, he sees the game differently than most players.

That's an apt description for Charles Woodson.

And also for second-round pick Casey Hayward.

"He has a skill-set that's similar," cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt told Packer Report. "He understands routes, he can get the ball. I don't know if he's as physical as Charles — not many corners are — but his skill-set is very, very similar. You don't want to put a ‘Charles Woodson' on a young guy because it's not to fair to him. Charles has been in this league a long time and is truly great at what he does, but this kid has some ability that resembles what Charles can do."

Every young cornerback, it seems, grew up studying Woodson. That's not the case for Hayward, though.

"I watched him play but I was a quarterback in high school so I didn't really play corner until I got to college," Hayward said. "I've heard similarities, as well. Both of us use our eyes. We like to play with vision, I've heard. If that's the comparison people want to give me, I'll take it because he's one of the best of all-time. Hopefully, I can get there."

Hayward, who the Packers selected by moving back into the second round in April's draft, worked with the second unit for most of training camp until injuries to Sam Shields and Davon House. The injuries have opened the door for Hayward to win a starting job, which he said would be a "dream come true."

"You've got to take advantage of your opportunities," Hayward added. "House's down, Sam's down — I'm pretty sure they'll get their chances when they come back but I'm trying to lock it up and secure it. If I can do that these next couple weeks and show the coaches that I know what I'm doing and not have mental errors — and they'll get to see me with the 1's and see how I communicate and how I play with the 1's — then I think they may give me a shot."

Hayward fits the mold of what Green Bay likes with its cornerbacks. First and foremost, it's about making plays. During his final two seasons at Vanderbilt, Hayward intercepted 13 passes, and his 15 career interceptions tied the school record. With 46 career passes defensed, he led all FBS active players and ranks 11th all-time. As a senior, he had seven interceptions and allowed just 19.5 percent completions. Secondly, Hayward is a good tackler, with tackling a major focal point for the secondary after last year's shoddy performance.

"He's a smart kid. He knows the game of football," receiver Jordy Nelson said. "He's very strong, physical. I think he's going to be good."

Nobody on the team knows Hayward better than rookie safety Sean Richardson. Hayward and Richardson were among three true freshmen to play at Vanderbilt in 2008.

"He's just a great all-around corner," Richardson said. "I would say what a lot of people don't know about him is he's a gamer, but at the same time, he's a film junkie. He's always in the film room. He knows a lot of tendencies. He knows the quarterbacks' tendencies, route recognition and stuff like that. It's just amazing."

About the only knock on Hayward is his speed; he ran a 4.53 at the Scouting Combine. That lack of high-end speed is why he slipped to the 62nd pick of the draft. The doubts, however, "motivated me," Hayward said.

Still, he got the seal of approval from a player who's seen countless cornerbacks in his career.

"I think he's doing well," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "I think he's got good ball skills. He's not a burner out there but he understands the game and route concepts. I got to watch him last year every week, because he went to Vanderbilt with my brother, and was actually pulling for him a long time ago that we would pick him (but) I didn't think we'd have a chance to. We got him in the second round, which is a good spot to get him. I think he's got a real shot. He understands the game well. He's got an incredible teacher to learn from in Charles, if he can tap into some of that wisdom, and Tramon (Williams), as well. He's a young guy and I think he's got a bright future."

Hayward gave up one long completion against San Diego; he was in good position but didn't turn to locate the ball. However, he hasn't given up many plays at practice, Whitt said. That's critical for a pass defense that allowed a ghastly 71 plays of at least 20 yards.

"That's what I'm more concerned about. because I know once he gets more comfortable in the defense and understanding what he has to do, his plays are going to come," Whitt said. "He has very good instincts. I'm more concerned about him leveraging routes now and not giving up plays.

"He has to show that he can go in there and play with the 1s, but it's a great opportunity for him because he's a very confident young man, he thinks he can do it, and now it's on his shoulders."

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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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