Call him the Florida Flash. By now, most Packers fans know that Sam Shields can outright fly. Shields himself knows that putting that speed to use on the playing field will be his ticket to outpace other candidates for a spot on the 53-man roster. Let’s just say that after his 98 yard interception at the family night scrimmage, Shields has made a good first impression.
I generally like to do my undrafted free agent evaluations before training camp starts, so I can make more of a “blind” evaluation uninfluenced by camp performances (I like the challenge). While in the previous weeks I covered the wide receivers, running backs and offensive linemen free agents, there just hasn’t been time to get to the defensive UDFAs.
But there are a couple of defensive UDFAs in camp that are worthy of a “better late than never” evaluation, and we’ll start with Sam Shields.
Shields was born in Sarasota Florida and played football there for Booker High School. After a senior year where Shields caught 67 passes for 1,201 yards (17.9 avg.) and 22 TDs, as well as two TDs on punt returns and a 44 yd average on kickoff returns, Shields was a top-20 nationally ranked WR recruit. Shields chose the University of Miami over Florida, LSU and other suitors.
Shields contributed immediately as a true freshman at Miami. He started 7 of 13 games at WR, caught 37 passes with 4 TDs and was named Honorable Mention Freshman All-American. His production as a wide receiver dropped the next two seasons as he caught 27 passes as a sophomore and only 11 passes as a junior. He excelled as a gunner on special teams, however, and was named Special Teams Player of the Year as a junior.
With Shields having lost playing time as a wide receiver because of too many drops, Miami head coach Randy Shannon looked for another way to get Shields and his speed on the field more often. So they moved Shields to CB, where he started 10 of 12 games as a senior and was named the team’s most improved player.
Fast Forward to March 18th, about a month before the NFL Draft. After arriving at his grandmother’s house to pick up his daughter, Shields was caught in a police raid on the house and charged with possession of marijuana. Sarasota police raided the residence shortly after he arrived because they suspected drugs were being sold there. Shields said he was not using marijuana and was falsely arrested.
A month later, all charges against Shields were dropped, but the damage was done. Add in the fact that he really didn’t have a set position, and Shields was ignored in the NFL Draft, despite having put up some gaudy numbers at his Pro day: 4.30 40-yard-dash, 4.19 short shuttle and 6.79 three-cone drill, 39.0 vertical jump, 11-1 broad jump and 15 reps on the bench.
When the NFL draft ended, Shields received calls from 7 teams. He decided on the Packers, one of two teams he had visited. “I liked Green Bay, the Hall of Fame, everything,” Shields said, “I talked to my head coach, Randy Shannon, and I also did my homework on the depth chart and how I could fit in as far as special teams. I thought it was the best fit for me.”
Other factors for Shields were the Packers not selecting a cornerback in the draft, and Packers cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr.’s history of converting offensive players to defense. As a college coach at Louisville, Whitt successfuly converted several players to defense, some examples being William Gay, Antoine Harris and Kerry Rhodes. Said Whitt of Shields, “Once we get him going, he’s going to be a danged-good player.”
Through OTAs and the first week of camp, Shields has opened the eyes of some very discerning people, especially with his surprising play at cornerback.
Coach Mike McCarthy said, Shields “really jumped out to me” during the offseason practices and was off to a good start in training camp.
Tramon 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.”
And most impressive of all, Charles Woodson chimed in, “You know what, I think he’s going to be able to play for us.”
Training camp kudos aside, Shields has a battle to make the 53-man roster. But with the Packers woes at special teams, having a guy like Shields to force fair catches (his specialty, according to Shields), would certainly help get them out of the bottom of the rankings.
Shields has also been working hard at practicing catching the ball for punts and kickoffs. He’s still not at the point where you would trust him on a punt, but kickoffs are a definite possibility, including the possibility of getting him the ball through a bit of trickery, as this clip will demonstrate:
And why stop there? How about getting the ball into his hands on offense for a few plays a game? He can line up as a wide receiver and be used to stretch the field. Or used as a decoy to force a safety to commit sooner they they might like, creating open spaces underneath.
Or perhaps he could be used to bring the end-around or reverse back to the Packers playbook (you all remember what those plays look like don’t you?).
My point is, the Packers can find multiple ways to use this guy’s speed and scare the hell out of opposing teams on special teams, defense or offense. He’s your gunner, possible kick returner, the last cornerback on the roster and an emergency wideout as well.
Certainly, for anyone who has witnessed Jarret Bush losing his man and flailing around hopelessly while trying to pick up the ball in the air, can Shields really be any worse?
Used properly, Shields can be a valuable contributor to this team. It’s still early, and I want to see him in real contact action in the preseason games, but right now, it’s hard not to be excited about the prospects of the Florida Flash…——————
Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.