In depth: Cornerbacks

Final season as starters in Green Bay for Woodson, Harris?

Charles Woodson and Al Harris combined to form one of the top cornerback tandems in the National Football League last season. Both are expected to start again for the Packers this season, but beyond that is anyone's guess.

Though Harris signed a two-year extension with the Packers in February, and Woodson is on the second year of a seven-year deal that he signed with the team in April of 2006, that doesn't mean the two veterans will be around for the next two or more seasons. Both players are entering their 10th season in the NFL, and both are 30-plus years old. For an NFL cornerback, that means they are on the downside of their careers and, at any time, could fade fast.

Neither Woodson nor Harris, however, showed any signs of slowing down last season. Woodson led the team with a career-high eight interceptions, one sack and a team- and career-high 26 passes defensed. Harris had three interceptions and 20 passes defensed. Opponents tried not to throw in his direction, even though he was covering their top receiver.

The Packers are hoping to get another solid season out of the two veterans, but from that point, it may not be surprising to see a younger player worked into the starting lineup.

Will Blackmon is the top candidate among the team's young stable of cornerbacks to start. First, though, Blackmon will have to show that his is more durable that what he was as a rookie last year. Blackmon missed the majority of off-season practices, training camp and regular season games due to a couple of injuries. He has all the assets that teams look for in a cornerback – great quickness, the ability to adjust, instincts – but he has yet to put them to use on a regular basis. He is expected to be ready for the start of training camp despite sustaining a groin injury during the team's Organized Team Activities practices.

If Blackmon stays healthy he will be battling veteran cornerback Frank Walker for the right to play as the team's nickel back in passing defenses. Walker, entering his fifth season, was the only unrestricted free agent from another team to sign with Green Bay this off-season. Walker fell out of favor with the New York Giants last season, and feels he has a golden opportunity to eventually start at cornerback in Green Bay.

Patrick Dendy, Jarrett Bush and Tramon Williams will be battling for the fifth cornerback spot on the roster. Dendy has the inside edge after playing in 12 games last season as the team's nickel back, including three starts. Packers coaches have been pleased with Dendy's off-season production in the weight room and on the field, as well as other defensive backs.

"When we went through the off-season program, we selected a member of our football team each week that did the best job in the weight room and also the individual workouts, and of the nine weeks, three of them were defensive backs," Packers coach Mike McCarthy explained. "I think that just tells you what kind of off-season all those guys have had. I think the young guys, there's excellent competition there, and you just go all the way down the line. So I'm very happy with the progress Bush has made, Blackmon. I think Patrick Dendy has had an excellent (May minicamp). Williams, really, all those guys have done excellent. A lot of competition there."

Though the Packers finished with four cornerbacks and five safeties on their roster at the end of last season, look for the team to keep five cornerbacks and four safeties to start the season this year. Cornerbacks are a valuable commodity and with Woodson and Harris soon entering the twilights of their careers, the Packers will be better off grooming younger plays to fill step in as starters.

Here is a prediction on which five cornerbacks the Packers will keep on their roster this season:

1. Al Harris
2. Charles Woodson
3. Will Blackmon
4. Frank Walker
5. Patrick Dendy


Todd Korth

Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at packrepted@aol.com.


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