Even Woodson Notices Shields

When the reigning defensive player of the year notices an undrafted rookie, that must be a good sign. Sam Shields, who ran a 4.3 40-yard dash at his pro day, is making a solid impression. Woodson and Tramon Williams — a former undrafted rookie — offer their advice.

Sam Shields has been the Green Bay Packers' most-talked about undrafted rookie for the last few months.

Even Charles Woodson has noticed.

"You know what, I think he's going to be able to play for us," Woodson told Packer Report on Sunday. "He's making some plays, he definitely runs well. The test will be for him, is the playbook. There's a lot. We'll have 50 plays by (Sunday) night. So, once he gets comfortable just being out there and knowing checks and that sort of thing, I think he'll be pretty good."

Just like everyone wants to talk about second-round pick Mike Neal and his strength, speed is never far from the conversation when it comes to Shields. Arguably the fastest player in the draft, Shields ran the 40-yard dash in 4.30 seconds at his pro day — though he says he's run as fast as 4.19.

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. He started 10 games at corner as a senior, breaking up two passes and finishing sixth on the team in tackles.

So, the learning curve is steep but the upside is intriguing.

"I'm getting more comfortable at it. I just got to keep working on it and keep working on it," Shields said from his seat in the auxiliary locker room. "I've just got to continue to work on things and stay in the playbook and work on my craft and just knowing what to do on the field."

Shields made a splash on the first day of practice with a pick-six. He hasn't flashed as much in the last few practices but he hasn't been beaten routinely, either. His ticket on the roster as a rookie will be on special teams, which is where he excelled in college. Just like he was given a new role in college, he's been given a new role in the NFL. At Miami, Shields earned kudos as a gunner on the punt team because of his speed, strength and desire. In Green Bay, Shields is competing with Will Blackmon, Jordy Nelson, Tramon Williams and fellow undrafted rookie Quinn Porter to be the punt returner. After struggling — predictably, considering his total lack of experience — fielding the ball during the offseason practices, he's done much better during live punting situations at training camp.

If anyone understands the uphill battle that Shields is facing, it's Williams. Williams entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie in 2006 and was cut by Houston at the end of training camp. He was out of the league until the Packers added him to their practice squad late in the season.

"He's got ability," Williams said. "Obviously, he's an explosive guy. He's real fast. I think with some good coaching, he's going to be a player."

The coaching comes from Joe Whitt Jr., the 32-year-old who quickly earned the respect of the Packers' corners after being named to his post with the coaching transition last year. At Louisville, Whitt turned offense-turned-defense players William Gay, Antoine Harris and Kerry Rhodes into NFL defensive backs.

"He's a tough coach but he's really helpful," Shields said. "He's going to get on you on things that you need to work on. He says I need to get more aggressive, so that's something that I'm concentrating on so he doesn't get on me about that anymore. That's what he wants his defensive back corps to do is just be aggressive."

Coach Mike McCarthy on Sunday said Shields "really jumped out to me" during the offseason practices and was off to a good start in training camp.

"You just come in here and keep working, do what the coaches tell you to do, get into your playbook. Learn the basics, first of all," Williams said. "Once you learn the basics, that's all the coaches really look for in the beginning. Once you get into the defense, then you can settle in and kind of feel it out a little bit more. Just stick to the defense, not try to do too much and let your ability carry you. It will all work out."

The learn-the-plays advice was echoed by Woodson. Asked if he'd pull Shields aside and give him some of his sage advice, Woodson said yes — but not now.

"Right now, he's got enough going through his head than to have me in his ear telling him to do this and do that," Woodson said. "His main focus is going to be know what he's doing when he's on the field. And at the end of the day, if he makes the team, then you talk to him here and there about what he can do to get better. But he's got to get that playbook down."

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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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