Packer Report continues its position-by-position training camp preview with a look at the cornerbacks. The list after "depth" includes all of the players on the current roster. The list after "final cut" is our prediction on who will make the final roster, with the number of players based on past seasons.
Review: What can you say about a unit in which one starter was voted to the Pro Bowl, the other replaced him at the Pro Bowl and the third cornerback tied for third in the NFC with five interceptions? In a league that's as starved for cornerbacks as quarterbacks, the Packers received superior play from its top three last season. Charles Woodson played through a broken toe to tie teammate Nick Collins for the NFC lead with seven interceptions. He was voted to the Pro Bowl but skipped the game because of an injury. He was replaced in Honolulu by veteran Al Harris, who missed four games with a spleen injury but bounced back with equal amounts talent and attitude. Tramon Williams was superb when he replaced Harris early in the season, with interceptions in three straight games. The fourth corner is an issue. Will Blackmon's niche on the team is returning punts, and Pat Lee's season ended after just five games with a minor knee injury. Porter played on special teams in Week 16 against Chicago but exited with a concussion.
Strength: How good has Woodson been? Once deemed over the hill and something of a malcontent, Woodson has been a consummate professional in Green Bay. In eight seasons with Oakland, Woodson intercepted 17 passes and scored two touchdowns. In three seasons in Green Bay, he has 19 interceptions and scored five touchdowns. Ask Collins why he blossomed into a Pro Bowler, and he'll credit watching Woodson's study habits. Amazingly, Woodson couldn't practice for about two months after breaking a toe in Week 1 vs. Minnesota but his play didn't slip even a notch. He allowed all of one touchdown all season. He clearly was the team's best player and turned in arguably the finest season by a Packers cornerback since the Glory Years. Until Harris' play slipped late in the season once the Packers were out of the playoff picture, he was having almost as remarkable of a season as Woodson, considering the spleen injury initially left his career in jeopardy. In his first nine games, he allowed only two receptions of at least 20 yards. Amazingly after the injury, Harris played tougher than ever, as if he had something to prove. When he's on his game, he remains a top-tier player. Williams entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2006. After being released by Houston in the final cut, he was out of football for almost three months before spending the final five weeks on the Packers' practice squad. Now, he's considered a future starter. Lee seemed to blossom during offseason work and will challenge Blackmon to be the fourth corner. Blackmon, however, smothered Marvin Harrison during a midseason game vs. Indianapolis, holding the future Hall of Famer to two trivial receptions. And watch out for Underwood. The sixth-round pick has the height (6-foot-1), long arms and athletic ability to be a key player down the road.
Weakness: Other than Harris turning 35 in December and Woodson 33 in October, there's not much to nitpick. Either Harris showed signs of getting old at the end of last season, when he allowed four 20-yard gains in the final three games, or it was simply a lack of concentration at the end of a bad year for the team. Williams gave up far too many big plays, in part because he's got a penchant for gambling. But he's young, talented and extremely coachable. There's nothing close to a sure thing after the top three. Blackmon has yet to show he can play at a high level on a weekly basis. Lee, who was drafted for his man-to-man ability, was a disappointment last year.
Quoteworthy: "We have this thing called the ‘play of the day' in my room, and he has way more than anybody else," cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr. said of Tramon Williams. "He's been making plays, he's been playing at a high level. He's detailed at his position. His notes are outstanding. His understanding of the defense, he's taken it from the meeting room to the practice field and playing at a very high level. I just hope he can continue to grow and continue to play at this level."
Final cut (6): Woodson, Harris, Williams, Lee, Blackmon, Underwood.
In all, the Packers will keep 10 defensive backs. Woodson, Harris, Williams, Lee, Blackmon and starting safeties Nick Collins and Atari Bigby are locks. That leaves Underwood, combo corner/safety Jarrett Bush and safeties Aaron Rouse and Anthony Smith vying for three jobs. Underwood appears to have major upside, but the fate of Bush will be key. Is he a safety, where he spent all of the offseason, or is he a candidate to be the sixth corner?
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and 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 twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.