Do Packers Have it Covered Minus Woodson?

Lining up and playing pass defense will be the least of the Packers' problems with Charles Woodson out at least until mid-December. Packer Report examines the challenges confronting Dom Capers as he has to deal with another injury to a front-line player.

Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers' comments on Friday were prescient.

Not that he wanted to press his luck by losing ace defensive back Charles Woodson for at least six weeks.

"As you prepare for the season, you have to have enough flexibility in your scheme," Capers said two days before Sunday's painful 30-20 win over St. Louis. "You say, ‘If we don't have this guy, what can we do? If we don't have this guy …' If you base it all on one, two, three guys, all of a sudden you lose a guy or two, you're flat done. You have to have enough flexibility if you lose a guy."

Injuries have been an equal-opportunity pain in the rear of Capers.

Defensive line? B.J. Raji's missed the last two games.

Outside linebacker? Nick Perry's missed most of the last two games.

Inside linebacker? Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith are out for the season.

Cornerback? Davon House was injured in the preseason and missed the first six games and Sam Shields was out on Sunday.

Safety? Woodson's name goes right to the top of the list.

"Well, I guess we've covered every position now," Capers, his sense of humor intact, said on Monday.

Based purely on pass coverage, the Packers figure to be just fine without Woodson, who potentially could return for the Packers' five-game finishing kick that includes four division games. Woodson was moved to safety in the base defense in part because he no longer had the elite athleticism to cover the league's top receivers. That's not meant to be a criticism. Woodson turned 36 on Oct. 7. He was still playing at a high level, having allowed 64.3 percent completions with no touchdowns and one interception, according to

Casey Hayward will take Woodson's spot as the nickel cornerback — a position that has defined Woodson's Hall of Fame-worthy career. Hayward, a second-round pick who has a bit of Woodson in his game, has been nothing short of sensational. He's started one game and is averaging about 35 snaps per game and yet is tied for the NFL lead with four interceptions. According to, Hayward has allowed a 23.7 passer rating — No. 2 among cornerbacks — and quarterbacks have completed 44.8 percent of passes directed at him (13-of-29).

"He's a smart kid, but he's really picking up the finer points of the defense," cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said on Friday. "A lot of guys who are rookies are just running the playbook, what's in the playbook. They're not actually playing football. And this guy's playing football. He hasn't really made a lot of mistakes. He's a mature young man. He doesn't act like a rookie."

The problem is the domino effect. After three seasons in which nickel has been Capers' main personnel group, he's gone to an extensive use of dime — about 44 percent by Packer Report's unofficial count over the last six games. In dime, the slot cornerbacks had been Woodson and Hayward. Now, it will be either Hayward and Jarrett Bush, or Hayward and Jerron McMillian, or, perhaps, Hayward and House.

Bush's career-long problems in coverage are obvious, but he's a tough guy — a necessity with the demands in the run game — and a good blitzer. McMillian, a fourth-round safety, worked some at the dime position during training camp as part of Capers' "if we don't have this guy" planning. Like Bush, McMillian is a tough guy who's not afraid to attack in the run game, but his coverage ability is a major question mark. On Friday, Capers said House was capable of playing inside, but the physicality of that position might be too much for a player wearing a harness to protect a shoulder that was partially dislocated about two-and-a-half months ago.

Of those four players, Bush is the lone veteran. Hayward and McMillian are rookies and House, a second-year player, saw his first NFL action on defense against the Rams.

To replace Woodson at safety, it figures to be an expansion of the M.D. Jennings-McMillian timeshare alongside Morgan Burnett. Jennings, a second-year player, has played 57 snaps and McMillian 50 over the last two weeks.

That's a lot of youth for a team that looked an awful lot like a championship contender the last two weeks.

"I think any experience you've had in there you can draw from," Capers said. "It's one of the things we try to do in the offseason is you say, ‘All right, if we don't have this guy …' You try to put guys in that position to where at least they have some repertoire to draw from."

Beyond the inexperience, the Packers will miss Woodson's toughness. Woodson was fearless, a necessity for the nickel position. Against the Rams, bruising Steven Jackson ran over Woodson — but at least Woodson made the tackle. Can Hayward hold up physically in what essentially is a hybrid cornerback-linebacker role?

"I think so," Capers said. "Casey's done everything we've asked him to do. You think back a few weeks ago, the Bears game's the first game we stuck him in there, and this game was the first time he started full-time and he went out and got off to a really good start."

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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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