Shields Owns Special Skills

Speed demon Sam Shields, an undrafted free agent from Miami, might not be a kick returner but he can bolster the special teams because of his astounding athletic ability and desire to succeed. He'll get a boost from cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt.

That Sam Shields can run is practically the stuff of legend.

Forget about him contributing at cornerback as a rookie, though. He's just too raw. And that talk about him being the answer to the Packers' chronic kick-returning dilemma? Well, that's just nonsense.

But don't count out the undrafted free agent from Miami. There's more to special teams than returning kicks. While Shields has been fielding punts for the Packers since the team's rookie camp in May, where he excelled at Miami was as a gunner on the punt team. In fact, he didn't even return kicks at Miami. The only time he touched the ball on special teams as a senior was on a trick play on the opening kickoff of the Canes' bowl game against Wisconsin. Shields took a reverse and raced 84 yards for a touchdown, though it was called back on a penalty.

"I don't know," Shields said when asked why he didn't return kicks in college. "I guess I just really didn't go to the special teams coach and really ask him to do it. I probably could have but there were guys in front of me and I was working at gunner a lot because I loved doing that and really wanted to focus on that."

The Packers' special teams last season were abysmal. Whether it was the kicking or the punting, the coverage or the returns, the Packers wound up ranked 31st out of 32 teams in the Dallas Morning News' annual special-teams rankings.

So, while Shields struggled fielding punts during the offseason practices, his love of special teams and his athleticism give him a chance to help the Packers. At his pro day, Shields ran his 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds, though he told Packer Report that he's run as fast as 4.19. On his touchdown against the Badgers, he lined up with the front wall of the kickoff team at about the 45-yard line, ran straight back 30 yards to get the ball, then circled left and ran untouched 84 yards for the score. In all, he ran about 140 or 150 yards.

With that speed and a well-defined 184 pounds on his 5-foot-10 1/2 frame, Shields has a chance to earn the role won by Jarrett Bush the past couple of seasons as a core special-teams player and an in-case-of-emergency cornerback.

"That's the way to get on the team is special teams, and that's where I'm trying my hardest," Shields said.

Shields spent his first few seasons at Miami playing wide receiver, starting 15 games along the way. As a senior, he was moved to cornerback — a position he didn't even play in high school.

"One day in spring, I was doing it when the corners would go to receivers and the receivers would go to corners," Shields recalled. "It was planned, and I guess the coach seen something out of that. I thought he was playing at first."

In the long run, Shields has the skill-set to be at least be an adequate cornerback. Cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt called Shields "raw" but said he's arguably the "most gifted" player in his position group. In fact, it was Whitt's history and the Packers' decision to not draft or sign any corners that led to Shields choosing Green Bay over a half-dozen other suitors.

"I've told him I had history when I was at Louisville of taking guys that had never played defense before," Whitt said. "William Gay, he's in the NFL. Antoine Harris, he's in the NFL. Kerry Rhodes, he's in the NFL. Taking those guys that were receivers or quarterbacks in high school or when they got to Louisville and making them NFL players, I think I have history of doing that. Once we get him going, he's going to be a danged-good player."

For now, the Shields just needs to be danged good on special teams, whether it's covering kickoffs (18th in the NFL), covering punts (24th) or, perhaps, even returning punts (23rd),

"When I first got in, I wasn't really keeping my eyes on the ball as well I'm supposed to," Shields said. "Coach keeps working with me and it's coming as a habit now."


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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 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 and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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