Shields Makes Run To Be 3rd CB

Sam Shields, the undrafted rookie from Miami, didn't back down during his debut with the No. 1 defense on Thursday. Shields outplayed veterans Brandon Underwood and Pat Lee, wrapping up the game with an impressive interception.

Sam Shields arrived in Green Bay as an undrafted curiosity, with his head-turning speed and shoulder-shrugging collegiate resume.

But the tale of the tape in the Packers' search for a third cornerback reads:

Brandon Underwood started, appeared to be responsible for the mental gaffe that gave the Colts an easy first touchdown and left the game in the first half with an injured shoulder. Underwood, who performed poorly last week after a mostly strong preseason opener, did not get onto the stat sheet.

Pat Lee, a second-round pick in 2008, didn't get into the game until the second half. The Packers love his physical style but he also didn't get onto the stat sheet and hasn't made a single noteworthy play in three games.

— And then there's Shields. He wasn't perfect by any stretch in his first opportunity with the No. 1 defense — he gave up a 24-yard completion on his first defensive snap — but he broke up a long pass from Peyton Manning to Pierre Garcon early in the third quarter and put the finishing touches on the win for the second consecutive game with an interception. He finished with three passes defensed.

"I'm getting there," the understated Shields said afterward.

In the span of about four weeks, Shields has gone from a minor long shot to make the roster to — for better or worse — a pretty good bet to be a de facto starter as the Packers' third cornerback.

"We've got another week to look at him, see how he does next week," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "We played him a lot tonight for a reason; see how he'd respond against their good receivers."


Sam Shields breaks up a long pass from Peyton Manning. Mike Roemer/AP

Long before Capers was a defensive coordinator, he was a defensive backs coach. He loves Shields' physical tools, as does cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt, who has said that Shields is the most talented player in his position group and would have been an early-round draft pick had he played defense for more than just his senior season at Miami.

"I couldn't even backpedal," Shields recalled. "I was falling and trying to backpedal. Right now, I just feel like a 100 percent cornerback."

That was on display during his last-minute interception. Sure, it was Curtis Painter and not Manning at quarterback, but Shields looked like a polished corner as he followed the receiver out of his cut, turned his head and made a beautiful leaping grab near the sideline.

"I think he's got good physical ability. He just doesn't have a lot of time at the position," Capers said. "He's improved since he's been here. You saw the play he made on the last play of the game. Now, a lot of guys don't make that, can turn and catch the flash of the ball. He ended last week's game with an interception. On Family Night, he made an interception and took it back for a score. He's made some plays, just kind of like Zombo's made some plays. It's preseason, so, we'll have to see."

The list of quarterbacks on this year's schedule looks like an Olympic hurdles course, with one barrier after another. While the workload might not be as extreme as it was on Thursday, when the Packers' defense spent the entire night in nickel, but that third corner will play at least 60 percent of the defensive snaps for most of the season. Ideally, that would be an experienced player — and it will be if Al Harris ever returns — but Capers didn't exactly look scared when asked if he could live with a rookie in that role.

"You're going to play what you consider your best people and give you the best chance of winning," he said.


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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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