They're also content to wait and see how quickly the chemistry will form in the secondary, where communication is paramount.
"I'm now downplaying (chemistry)," cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. "I'm just saying that, right now, the process is still in motion. There hasn't been a decision made because there doesn't need to be a decision made."
Seven players are in the running for the two spots. At cornerback, Sam Shields has played almost 1,600 snaps on defense during his two seasons in the league. Jarrett Bush took the job from Shields for the playoff game and has held it through portions of training camp. Rookie second-round pick Casey Hayward had his chance but couldn't lock up the job. Davon House, a fourth-round pick in 2011, had a relatively firm grip on the job until sustaining a partial dislocation of his shoulder against San Diego two weeks ago, an injury that might keep him out for another week or three, at best, or the whole season, at worst.
"We have two more preseason games and 10 or 11 days until we play San Francisco, so that's where I am," Whitt said. "I'm not rushing into anything; we're not rushing into anything. You let the process take care of itself. When we line up and go play San Fran, we'll have the guys that are going to go help us play. There's no rush right now. We don't have to have a guy right now because we don't play a regular-season game until (Sept. 9)."
Shields is the logical front-runner, based on experience alone. He's got 13 starts and 29 regular-season games under his belt, with six interceptions in two seasons. After missing time with an elbow injury, Shields has come back strong. He was outstanding on Monday and Tuesday, with three breakups on deep passes, as he seemed to be making a statement that he wanted his job back.
"You know, it's a fight each and every day," he said. "You never know. You could be down one time and right back up. You never know. It's just a grind every day."
Of course, no one doubted Shields' ability to cover. Can he tackle? Does he want to tackle? Shields showed some promise in that regard early in camp but Whitt wants to see it show up under the lights.
"It's a real big night," Shields said. "First time back out there, got to give the coaches something to look at. Just like Joe always says, go out there and make a splash play."
At safety, second-year player M.D. Jennings held the job throughout the offseason and through the first two preseason games. During last week's preseason game against Cleveland, it appeared rookie fourth-round pick Jerron McMillian had used his hitting ability to merit a shot to earn the starting job. And sure enough, McMillian got his first action with the starters on Sunday. However, on Monday and Tuesday, it was Anthony Levine who was lining up alongside Morgan Burnett when Charles Woodson was at cornerback in the nickel and dime packages.
"We knew coming into it that we were going to have some tough decisions and we figured it probably would come right down to the end," safeties coach Darren Perry said. "I see that no different. I think all of the guys have performed well. We're just looking to see who can give us the best opportunity to be the best defense and give us the most out of that position. We've got some guys that are competing and it's very close. We'll let it play out. Hopefully, maybe after this game, but if not, we still have the Kansas City game.
Still, it would be ideal to get some finality on Thursday so the No. 1 secondaries in base, nickel and dime can get two weeks of practice before the opening game against the 49ers.
"You've got some young guys out there that are working and they're still competing, fighting for jobs," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "I think it'll all work itself out. I think we'll have a better picture after this game Thursday night. By the time we get ready for that opener, we'll have a pretty good feel. Some of these young guys, as we go along, you'll see them visibly improve. Like most young guys, they've done some good things and there's some things that you have to correct. What you hope is you don't see them make the same mistake that they made the week before. I think the guys we have back there are bright guys and they're in the learning process and we like their ability. If you've got ability and you apply yourself the right way, you get better."
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