The Green Bay Packers will begin three weeks of organized team activities this week, with the first of those that’s open to the public set for Thursday. We get you ready with a positional look at the team, which continues with the cornerbacks.
Rookies and first-year players: Tay Glover-Wright, Kyle Sebetic, Ladarius Gunter, Blake Bernard, Travis Manning.
Noteworthy: There’s strength in numbers, which is what the Packers are relying on after losing veterans Tramon Williams and Davon House in free agency. They used their first two picks on Randall and Rollins, signed Gunter and Bernard after the draft, then added Manning last week. There are big shoes to fill. Since the 2010 season, Williams intercepted 22 passes (postseason included). Only Seattle’s Richard Sherman had more with 25. In 2014, he tied for the team lead with three interceptions and paced the squad with 16 passes defensed. At 191 pounds, he might have been the Packers’ pound-for-pound toughest player. His 62 consecutive regular-season starts was tops among the team’s defenders. Without Williams and House, the Packers return a potential solid starting trio with Shields, Hayward and Hyde. All three are playmakers. Shields sits right behind Sherman and Williams with 20 interceptions over the past five seasons. Hayward had three interceptions in 2014 to give him a three-year total of nine. Hyde had two interceptions in 2014 and three touchdowns on punt returns in his two seasons. From that perspective, Randall (six interceptions in two seasons at Arizona State) and Rollins (seven interceptions during his one and only season at Miami University) should fit right in.
The star: It could be argued that Hayward has been the secondary’s best player, even in limited snaps, but Shields is the one who’s getting the money. In fact, his cap number of $9.125 million for 2015 is more than double Randall (unsigned but will be about $1.44 million), Hayward ($1.05 million), Rollins ($680,000), Hyde ($630,000) and Goodson ($536,000) combined. Last season, 70 cornerbacks played at least 50 percent of their team’s defensive snaps. Shields ranked a superb seventh in completion percentage (51.9; tied with Darrelle Revis) but 38th in quarterback rating (89.6), 59th in missed tackles (11) and 66th in yards per completion (15.9), according to ProFootballFocus.com. With five years in the books, he’s now a veteran professional cornerback. That he played the position for just one year in college is ancient and irrelevant history. He must become more consistent or he won’t be here next season, not with his cap number rising to $12.125 million for 2016 and 2017.
The battle: Between Shields, Hayward, Hyde, Randall, Rollins and Goodson, would any combination of those three lining up in the nickel package be a surprise? Probably not. When cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said every job is up for grabs, he’s not kidding. With that said, the veterans are the clear and obvious favorites. They’ve all played too much good football. But who lines up where? Due to his lack of physicality, Shields will line up outside. With Hayward, Hyde, Randall and Rollins, the Packers are loaded with nickel candidates. One of them will have to join Shields on the outside. That probably will be Hayward — three of his six interceptions in 2012 came from the outside — though Goodson received a year of seasoning and should be ready to challenge. If nothing else, depth must be built in a hurry. Shields never has played a full season, having missed 13 games in five seasons. Hayward played every game in 2012 and 2014 but missed 13 games in 2013. With that injury history, there will be pressure for Randall, Rollins, Goodson or any of the others to be ready right away.
Rookie impact: If Shields, Hayward and Hyde stay healthy, Randall and Rollins might receive only minimal playing time on defense as rookies. Or they might force their way on the field immediately, especially if they are tougher than Shields and more athletic than Hyde. Regardless, with Shields’ soaring cap number and Hayward entering his final season under contract, the rookies figure prominently over the long term.
Quoteworthy: “The main challenge is how do we play winning football quickly?" Whitt said. "They’ll be able to play and make plays and make splash plays here or there, but can they not make the mistake when you’re in a big game? Can they play consistently? How fast can we get them to that point? That is the difficult part of it because all young players make mistakes. I don’t care if they played the position all the way through from grade school. When you’re a rookie, you make mistakes. Some of the mistakes, you just have to see it. You have to make it to learn from it. That’s just football. How fast can I expose them to hard situations and get them to feel comfortable out there and be able to play fast?”
email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.