If there’s anything relevant during these no-contact offseason practices, it’s the cornerbacks squaring off against Aaron Rodgers and his deep group of receivers.
With the third and final week of organized team activities under way, Rodgers likes what he sees from a cornerback corps that came under fire last season.
“I think they’re doing a pretty good job,” Rodgers said after Tuesday’s practice. “I think there’s going to be great competition — probably more competition this year than we’ve had in a while. I think it’s a deeper group than we’ve had. It will be interesting to see what happens when (Kevin) King comes in. I think there’s legitimately battles for first, second, third and fourth corners, which we really haven’t had that. You look at last year, Sam (Shields is) our guy. Sam’s our No. 1 and we’re kind of going from there. This year, there’s opportunity for guys to step up and take hold of that opportunity.”
When Shields went down in last year’s season-opening game with what appears to be a career-ending concussion, Green Bay’s defense was buried under an avalanche. Due at least in part to injuries, Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins failed to build upon quality rookie seasons. That forced LaDarius Gunter, who went undrafted in 2015 due to limited athleticism, to become the team’s No. 1 cornerback.
Shields is gone but Randall and Rollins are healthy, Davon House re-signed after spending the last two years in Jacksonville, Gunter is back and the top draft pick was King, a prospect with a practically unprecedented blend of size and athleticism. Josh Hawkins, who barely played as an undrafted free agent last year, had a strong practice on Tuesday, including two breakups in a span of four plays late in practice.
That provides — on paper, anyway — ample options.
“The league is more of a sub(package) league on defense, so you need three corners that can cover, and the best teams have three or four or five guys that can do it,” Rodgers said. “We need a deep group over there. Adding Davon House and his return to our program, he’s a different guy. He’s a more mature football player. He plays with a very nice patience on the field. I think he’s really going to add a lot to our football team and be a guy that the younger guys can catch and take some technique from and his approach, as well.”
Green Bay ranked 31st against the pass last season, which made what happened against the Matt Ryan-led Falcons in the NFC Championship Game as predictable as death and taxes.
Six months later cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt likes what he’s seen out of his revamped group — and that’s without King, who remains in school at Washington but should be in town for next week’s minicamp.
“Especially the top five or six guys,” Whitt said last week. “I think they’ve had some really, really good practices. I think as a group we all understand, with the way we performed last year, there are no get-out-of-jail-free cards. We all have to perform, me included. House has to perform; he didn’t play well in Jacksonville last year. None of the guys here played particularly well, other than I’m going to still say Gunter because I put him in bad situations. If they don’t play well, that’s up to me, and I didn’t coach well. There’s a great understanding that we have to pick up our tempo and we have to get back to the style of play that we play. I hope you see them itching and scratching and fighting to do things the right way and to make sure that those balls aren’t completed. I’ve been pleased with how they’ve been competing so far.”
House sees potential, too.
“Everyone works, keeps their head down,” he said. “I like Gunter’s technique, I tell him all the time, I watched his teach tape (and) it was pretty good. Damarious is a ball hawk. I think the reason why people were saying bad things about our secondary is because they don’t realize Damarious was hurt, he missed a few games; Quinten was hurt, he missed a few games; Sam was hurt, he missed the whole year. So, we had three starters coming out. Last year we were 30-something (against the pass). There’s no reason we can’t be a top-10 pass defense this year.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.