Packers Training Camp Countdown: 10 Days

Every day until the start of camp on July 26, we'll provide one juicy nugget to whet your appetite for the return of football. We'd give you more but the CBA forbids two-a-days. Sorry. More than seeking a 10-interception season, Casey Hayward wants to be an every-down defender.

After a hell of a good rookie season, what does Casey Hayward have in store for an encore?

"Have a hell of a good second season," he said.

The bar has been set incredibly high for the second-year Green Bay Packers cornerback, who seems like a suitable heir to Charles Woodson's role as a lockdown, playmaking, versatile defensive back.

Hayward led all NFL rookies with six interceptions, finished third for Defensive Rookie of the Year and was named to the Pro Football Weekly/Pro Football Writers of America all-rookie team.

During the offseason, cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt talked boldly of Hayward collecting "double-digits" interceptions. The quiet but confident Hayward didn't think that was out of the question.

"I left three or four interceptions out there," he said. "I'm continuing to work on my hands, my ball skills. I had a few MEs (mental errors), and I'm trying to take those out of my game completely. The fewer MEs you have, the more trust you have with your teammates and your coaches.

"If I can get to 10, that's great. If I get one, that's great. I'm not really worried about how many interceptions I get, because sometimes that doesn't tell the tale of how good somebody's playing. I just want to give up as few completions as possible."

Hayward is correct that interceptions can be a funny stat. On one hand, they define greatness. Seven of the top 11 in career interceptions are in the Hall of Fame, and there's no doubt Ed Reed will join them when his career is over. Then again, Terrell Buckley is one of 39 players in NFL history with 50 career interceptions.

Hayward, however, had a brilliant season, no matter how you cut it, based on ProFootballFocus.com's data. With no touchdowns allowed and six interceptions, he allowed a passer rating of 31.1 — the best in the league by a large margin, with Richard Sherman a full 10 points back. Only Ike Taylor allowed a lower completion percentage than Hayward's 44.6. While Hayward's not the most physical corner in the league, he gets the job done in that area. His three missed tackles tied for the third-fewest among cornerbacks.

That production mirrors his play at Vanderbilt and his scouting report as Packer Report and NFL scout Dave-Te' Thomas continually hyped Hayward before the 2012 draft.

The time with Woodson only helped Hayward's transition.

"I learned a lot from Wood — the way he approached the game, the way he played the game," Hayward said. "He's very physical at the point of attack. This year, I'm trying just elevate my game, be a better tackler, try and be a more complete corner."

Hayward will be in a four-way battle with Tramon Williams, Sam Shields and Davon House to be the two cornerbacks in the base defense. Hayward clearly will move into the slot when the Packers dial up their nickel and dime packages — one of those two packages were on the field more than 70 percent of the time last season. Hayward, however, wants to be a full-time player.

"I want to be that guy," he said. "I want to start outside and slide into nickel. I feel like I'm that type of player. I started on the outside last year for seven games. A lot of people overlook that I started so many games outside because I was playing so well on the inside, but I had more interceptions on the outside."


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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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