The Green Bay Packers have four excellent cornerbacks with Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Casey Hayward and Davon House. And they have three quality safeties with Morgan Burnett, Micah Hyde and HaHa Clinton-Dix.
Do the math: That’s seven defensive backs to play in packages requiring four, five and six defensive backs.
“We’ve got a lot of options,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said last week. “We’ve been working a number of guys to give us some different options inside. To tell you the truth, I couldn’t really say who’s going to end up being those guys. Tramon has played inside and done a good job — he did last year — Casey’s been an inside player, Micah Hyde’s been an inside player, Jarrett Bush has been an inside player. I think we’ve got a number of guys that can go in there and play. I like that; you need that.”
In the base defense, Williams and Shields will start at cornerback and Burnett and Hyde will start at safety.
The intrigue lies in the nickel and dime packages, with a variety of personnel groupings shown throughout training camp as well as the portion of Monday’s practice that was open to reporters.
Hayward lined up as the nickel cornerback for most of training camp. Cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said Hayward’s “better now than he was two years ago,” when Hayward was in the running for Defensive Rookie of the Year with six interceptions. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Hayward allowed two completions (four targets) for eight yards in three preseason games.
However, House has played so well that he might force his way into that three-cornerback package which has served as Green Bay’s unofficial base defense for the last few years. That would put House and Shields outside and Williams inside. House was one of the stars of the preseason. He almost broke up as many passes (four, according to the coaches’ breakdown) as he allowed completions (six, in 13 targets, for 38 yards, according to PFF).
“I’ve been pleased with Davon,” Whitt said. “The things that I’ve asked him to do this offseason, he hit every target. His play style (in the third preseason game against Oakland) was very violent, very aggressive, very physical in every aspect from shedding blocks to playing the ball in the air. He just played fast. That’s what I wanted to see from him. I didn’t see any hesitation.”
In the six-defensive-back dime package, the Packers could go with Hayward at the nickel and move safety Micah Hyde to the dime. That would provide an opening to get Clinton-Dix on the field to take Hyde’s place at safety. Or, Williams and Hyde (or Hayward) could play the two slot positions, which would provide an opening outside for House to pair with Shields.
Either way, a good player is going to be spending most of the game on the bench. The player who’s out in the cold one week might be right back in the mix the next.
“This is a very deep football team,” Whitt said. “At the end of the day, the decisions we make and where we put people, one thing’s in mind and that’s winning football games. However we deploy that group, it’s going to be about the other team and what they do and how we’re going to defend them. Not only in my group but other groups, there are going to be quality players that aren’t necessarily going to play each week because of how we’re going to deploy the 11 men that go out there.”
“Injuries,” Whitt continued later, “are something that you have to bring into account and matchups and who’s playing well and who’s not playing well. It’s so fluid that you can’t just say, ‘This guy’s going to be here and this guy’s going to be there.’ We’re blessed to have a number of quality players, but the No. 1 thing we want to do is put the right group out there to help us win that football game.”
House knows the deal. He started five games last season, including three in a row at one point. In the final two regular-season games, however, House played one snap against Atlanta and four snaps against Chicago. One week later, in the playoff game against San Francisco, Shields went down on the first series and House played 61 snaps.
“Every year, someone’s going to be disappointed,” House said. “At the end of the day, if everyone gets better, everyone’s going to get a shot. It’s a long season. The road to the Super Bowl is, what, six months? Not everyone is going to be happy but, at the end of the day, we’re all here for one reason and that’s to win the Super Bowl.”
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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.