Last year was a down season for the cornerbacks . Not too down, though; Green Bay's cornerbacks finished eighth in the league with nine interceptions.
Nonetheless, it was a significant step back after averaging 13 interceptions during the first four seasons of Dom Capers' tenure as defensive coordinator and Joe Whitt's stint as cornerbacks coach.
"We have to catch the football, that's the first thing," Whitt said after Tuesday's minicamp practice. "As a cornerback group, I believe we were eighth in the league. In the five years, I know we're No. 1. We've got to be a top-five as a cornerback group in interceptions. I think we had nine last year; we need to be around 12. We just have to catch the football when it's thrown to us."
The return of Casey Hayward would be an enormous step in that direction, as he showed with a brilliant interception on Tuesday.
As a rookie in 2012, he recorded six of the cornerbacks' 11 interceptions en route to winning all-rookie honors. In 2013, a series of hamstring issues limited him to three games and no interceptions. The math is easy: With Hayward going from six interceptions to zero, the Packers' cornerbacks went from 11 interceptions to nine.
"Casey's shown the ability to get the ball," Whitt said. "He has a knack. Some players, the ball finds them and he's one of those players. Ed Reed, Charles Woodson, the ball just finds those guys. Well, the ball finds Casey. So, when you have an extra guy on the field that can do that and can get the ball, it adds to your defense."
If everyone is healthy, Green Bay might have the deepest group of cornerbacks in the league. Sam Shields was retained during the offseason with a four-year, $39 million contract. Tramon Williams, who is entering his final season under contract, had an excellent second half to last season. Davon House, who has started five games in each of the last two seasons, is back, and impressive second-year defensive back Micah Hyde figures to be the dime defender when not moonlighting at safety.
Hayward, however, might be the key. It's not just the interceptions but his all-around play. In 2012, he ranked second in the league in completion percentage allowed, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
"He's looking good," Williams said. "It's been encouraging to see him come in, first of all, just being healthy. That's the main thing. He showed his playmaking ability in his first year. Unfortunately, the next year, he got injured. He looks good. He's smarter now. He had time to sit back and become a student of the game. You hate to miss time doing it but sometimes that's what helps you out a lot is sitting back and watching. He's been doing that. You can see it in his game, you can see it in the meetings. He's doing an excellent job."
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.