The Green Bay Packers used their first- and second-round draft picks on cornerbacks.
But who was running with the starting defense for part of Tuesday’s minicamp practice?
Undrafted rookie Ladarius Gunter.
With fourth-year playmaker Casey Hayward sidelined by a foot injury, cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt has been shuttling players in and out of the No. 1 unit throughout these offseason practices. With three weeks of organized team activities in the books, who’s playing where is starting to matter at least a little bit.
“I’ve been pleased with him,” Whitt said on Tuesday afternoon. “Today, it was Sam (Shields at left cornerback) and I was going to start out with D (first-round pick Damarious Randall) and then the next time we went team period I went with Q (second-round pick Quinten Rollins), and then the next time I went with Gunter. He’s shown to me that he deserves an opportunity to be in the conversation with those other two guys with how he’s played. He’s going to be given that opportunity. If anybody’s doing a nice job, he’s been nice.”
Gunter started 20 games during three seasons at Miami, finishing with six interceptions and 21 passes defensed. At 6-foot-1 1/2, he was tied for the second-tallest cornerback in the entire draft class. However, his 4.69-second clocking in the 40-yard dash was the third-slowest among the 54 defensive backs at the Scouting Combine. Also among the Combine’s defensive backs, Gunter had the slowest 10-yard split, slowest 20- and 60-yard shuttles and worst broad jump.
Just like that, Gunter’s draft stock sunk like a rock. He went undrafted and agreed to join Green Bay with a $5,000 signing bonus.
Whitt, however, isn’t one to get hung up on intangibles. When Gunter’s Combine was brought up, Whitt recalled former Florida star Joe Haden. Haden ran a 4.62 at the 2010 Scouting Combine but was selected by the Browns in the first round has been a Pro Bowler each of the past two seasons.
“There’s some guys that test well and some guys that play well,” Whitt said. “I remember when (Charles Woodson) won Defensive Player of the Year, we were at his banquet and they were talking about Joe Haden. The guy asked me, ‘Can he play at this level?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, because Joe Haden’s a football player.’ Well, some people just play football. Brent Grimes didn’t test really well but he’s a football player. So, I just go by what I see when they’re playing.”
With Shields and Hayward likely to start on the outside and Micah Hyde solidified as the nickel, Whitt is looking for one of his young corners to help fill the voids created by the offseason losses of veterans Tramon Williams, Davon House and Jarrett Bush.
Nothing, obviously, will be settled until deep into the preseason, but it appears Randall, Rollins and Gunter have vaulted past second-year corner Demetri Goodson and practice-squad holdover Tay Glover-Wright on the depth chart heading into the start of training camp in July. What’s been impressive about Gunter is he’s a press cornerback — and press coverage is forbidden in these noncontact practices.
“He hasn’t been giving up completions,” Whitt said of Gunter. “He’s just done a nice job. He has a long ways to go. Those three in particular have sort of separated themselves from the group of eight young guys. Now, one of those three have got to separate themselves from those three guys. Who will that be? I don’t know. They all have talent. D is probably the most talented of those three but Q has great instincts — he’s probably the most instinctive — and Gunter probably has the most technique right now. They all have a long ways to go.”
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