Camp Countdown: 37 Days — Pressure on Shields

Sam Shields, who wears jersey No. 37, is the new No. 1 cornerback because he represents so much of the experience and production in the revamped position group. The expectations are incredibly high.

Photo by Brad Barr/USA TODAY

There are 37 days until the Green Bay Packers start training camp. Considering the importance of No. 37 Sam Shields, he’s the perfect jumping-off point for our annual Training Camp Countdown series.

With the free-agent departures of Tramon Williams and Davon House, the Packers need Shields to be more than a good cornerback. They need him to play up to his contract. According to the contract breakdowns at OverTheCap.com, Shields’ average salary of $9.75 million is the ninth-highest among the cornerbacks.

As a tandem, Williams and Shields allowed defensive coordinator Dom Capers and cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt to stay mostly vanilla on the perimeter. Most of the time, Williams played left cornerback and Shields played right cornerback. Without Williams, Shields will be asked to do more. Shields spent most of the offseason practices playing left cornerback. Generally, the left cornerback gets more action because right-handed quarterbacks tend to throw to the right.

“I don’t necessarily know if he’s going to play on the left,” Whitt said last week. “I’m giving him a look over there. You know, you’ve had corners throughout the career — Al (Harris) was predominantly on the right, Nnamdi (Asomugha) played on the right. Some guys feel more comfortable one way or the other. He says he feels comfortable on both sides. He covered really well in these OTAs. He didn’t get many balls thrown at him. I’m going to give him an opportunity over there. I just know he’s made most of his impact from the right. He’s going to have to match (up against some No. 1 receivers), so he’s going to have to play left and right this year, anyway. We’re going to put him where we need him and where I feel he’s going to be most productive.”

That’s because Shields and Casey Hayward are the only veterans in a revamped cornerback corps. Williams played in 127 games with 99 starts and 28 interceptions. House played in 40 games with 14 starts and two interceptions. Jarrett Bush played in 137 games with eight starts and four interceptions. That’s 304 games, 147 starts and 34 interceptions that had their lockers cleared out.

Of the 10 cornerbacks on the roster — a list that includes Micah Hyde, who will start as the nickel corner but be the No. 3 safety — Shields has played in 67 games with 49 starts and 15 interceptions, Hayward’s played in 35 games with nine starts and nine interceptions and Hyde’s played in 32 games with 15 starts and two interceptions. Throw in Demetri Goodson’s scant six-game resume, the entire Packers’ cornerback corps has played in 134 games with 73 starts and 26 interceptions. Williams played almost as many games and had more starts and interceptions by himself.

With Shields owning so much of the leftover experience, Whitt is expecting him to take the next step in his career.

“I expect a lot from him,” Whitt said of the 27-year-old. “Last year, I thought the top four corners in the league were, not in any order, (Richard) Sherman, (Darrelle) Revis, Brent Grimes and Vontae (Davis). I think, if he does the things that we were working on, he can be in that conversation. Those four were clearly better and then there was a group of around 12 — he’s in that group of 12 to 14, in my opinion. How do you get in that top four with Brent Grimes, Revis and Sherman and Vontae Davis? How do you do that? That’s the question.”

Bill Huber is publisher of 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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