It’s Sam Shields’ Turn to “Improve From Within”

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Sam Shields - Green Bay Packers defensive back
Sam Shields sends the Packers to the Super Bowl.

Think back to the beginning of the 2010 season for a minute. The Packers defense was coming off an embarrassing playoff loss to the Arizona Cardinals and the secondary faced many of the same questions that the pass rush faces today.

But instead of answering those questions in the draft, Ted Thompson’s solution was to plug in an undrafted rookie free agent that few people had heard of and actually had more experience as a wide receiver than a defensive back. Sam Shields came into camp with the reputation as a speedster, and that’s about it. Besides his ability to run really fast, nobody knew much else about him.

“This is how you’re going to fix the secondary, Ted?” Packers fans asked.

“Yup,” Thompson replied before taking another sip from his bottled water and turning away.

“Improving from within” was a talking point that Thompson and Mike McCarthy hammered home through training camp and the preseason. By 2010, most reasonable Packers fans understood that Thompson was rarely going to sign a free agent or make a trade that grabbed headlines.

But Sam Shields? Really? The Packers were supposed to be a Super Bowl caliber team and Thompson’s answer to the team’s main weakness was an undrafted converted receiver? This decision really put the “In Ted we Trust” mantra to the test.

Well, we know how it worked out. Shields had an excellent rookie season and sealed the Packers trip to the Super Bowl with a game-clinching interception in the NFC championship. Shields was so good, the Packers cut fan favorite Al Harris halfway through the season.

The Packers improved from within, alright. But it was Shields — an unknown outsider — who kickstarted some of that improvement.

The following season didn’t go so well for Shields, or the entire Packers defense. There were too many games where the defense looked outmatched like they were against Warner and the Cardinals. But instead of taking the improve from within approach again, Thompson used almost all of his draft picks on defense. He even signed a few free agents.

That doesn’t mean improving from within doesn’t apply to this group. Nick Perry, Jerel Worthy, Casey Heyward and the others are nice additions, but they’re not going to rescue this defense by themselves. Several players are going to have to get better, or improve from within. Shields tops the list.

No longer is Shields is an unknown commodity with low expectations. He showed what he can do in 2010 and set the bar high for himself. Then he stumbled in 2011.

Yes, it’s true that some of those stumbles can be blamed on an anemic pass rush and an overall decline from everyone on defense. Not having a full offseason program probably didn’t help, either.

Those excuses won’t fly this time around.

To get better, Shields has to get more physical and do a better job of finding the ball when it’s in the air and making an aggressive play on it. Speed is nice, but when matched against a bigger receiver when the ball is in the air, it doesn’t do you much good. Opposing teams figured that out against Shields.

How confident are you that Shields can return to his 2010 form this season? On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being very confident, I’d put myself at a 7.5. Generally, defensive backs under Thompson have played well if they showed signs of life earlier in their careers, even if they regressed a little somewhere along the way.

And Shield’s problems appeared to come more from fundamentals and a lack of aggression instead of a drop off in raw talent. Fundamentals can be coached. Speed cannot.

The Packers proved that improving from within can result in a Super Bowl in 2010. If Shields improves from within in 2012, it very well might happen again.

 

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Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam\\\'s writing on the Packers here.

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  • Savage57

    The lack of aggressiveness in making moves to the ball or committing to making tackles in space – are those things coachable or do they reflect the mindset of a guy who’s attittude doesn’t really align with a cornerback? Time and competition will tell and I think that the presence of guys like House and Heyward are going to play a big role in prodding SS onward.

    As of now my feelings regarding Sheilds:

    If you’re going to tackle like PrimeTime, you better cover like him, too.

    • Adam Czech

      I think it is.

      It’s kind of like a young pitcher in baseball. The young pitcher might come to the big leagues and run off three or four good starts in a row before the league studies him, catches up to him and then starts pounding him. Then it’s up to the pitcher, with the help of the coaching staff, to make adjustments and get things going in the right direction again.

      Shields is still relatively new at DB. He had a good rookie season, then the league figured him out. It’s up to Shields to make the necessary adjustments and work with the coaching staff to get better. I’m not saying he’ll morph into an Antoine Winfield type of tackler, but reasonable improvement over what we saw last season is realistic.

      • Dave

        Very true, remember Tony Romo’s first 6-8 starts back in ’06 he looked unstoppable and then the league caught up with him and he had to learn a few new tricks to outwit Defenses. Shields should have a bounce back year this year, although I am really excited to see Heyward, especially if he can push Shields for the Nickel spot. If that happens why not move Woodson to safety? Shields already plays mostly on the outside so Capers can utilize Woodsons pass rush. It will be a fun training camp to watch!

  • cow42

    t-buck was a more willing tackler.

    shields won’t be on the roster in 2 years.

  • Ron LC

    Well titled Adam. The D’s deficiencies will be addressed one by one in the coming OTA’a and training camp. The ball is in Capers’ court so to speak. No mater which bencbmmark used the D was AWFUL last year. Turnovers being the on exception. Let’s get off the field on 3rd down more often and see just how good the O will be.

    Sammy Shields needs to learn how to cover and tackle. Other than that he’s fine. :)

  • FireMMNow

    I said before the 2011 season that Shields was a guy I worried about regressing. And he proved me correct, which is a rarity. Hopefully another full offseason and more importantly a push from Hayward will get him back on top of his game. As a rookie, Woodson could not say enough good things about how professional Shields was. You did not hear that last year. I believe Shields felt he had a safe place on the team and did not put in the time. He also appeared to be protecting himself against injury. He was a pathetic tackler last year. Some of that you have to attribute to him not being a true natural defender, but more so, it appeared to be a lack of effort. I think with the addition of Hayward and the probable improvement of House, Shields will play hungry like the UDFA that he is and perform well.

  • Dan

    I’m really hoping hayward is good enough to start early and House improves enough to get on the field.

  • PackersRS

    Shields was brought in to be a kick/punt returner. It was never in the Packers’ plan for Shields to be a major contributor on defense in 2010.

    Shields didn’t regress in 2011. It was 2010 that was the anomaly. Shields, in his entire life, has spent 2 offseasons training as a corner. TWO. One in college, and in 2010. He is, still, beyond raw. His overall technique was porr, including tackling, but it wasn’t for lack of effort.

    This is a very, very athletically talented kid that is willing to learn and grow. I have complete faith he’ll bounce back and have a great season. I know Whitt will hammer the press technique in his head.

    He is so quick AND fast that he can get away with bad technique sometimes. They’ll make him use his hands and place his hips the right way, he’ll stop peaking at the backfield, and he will look like that promising db again.

    • Oppy

      I completely disagree with your statement that “it wasn’t for a lack of effort.”

      When a guy blatantly starts to pull up and decelerate when he’s supposed to be closing in to tackle, and just allows other people to take down the ball carrier? That’s a lack of effort, and it was on display numerous times last season. He would, very frequently, stop pursuing the ball carrier aggressively as soon as he saw another defender in the vicinity, even when he was clearly in range and sometimes even the closest defender.

      I don’t question Shields’ talent. I question his desire to achieve, to work hard, and to do the things he just might not want to do.

      I think the Tattoo on his neck says it all: 2011 Sam Shields didn’t need to work anymore- he’s already a superbowl champ, he’s arrived, and he’s the shit. Why does he need to prove anything to anybody? Look at this SB Ring on my neck!

      I hope 2012 Sam Shields gets benched and threatened to be cut if he comes out playing with the effort he displayed in 2011. This kid needs a kick in the ass.

      • Flippy

        Give some examples. I have every game recorded from lst year, and would like to see what you are talking about. Surly you can remember a certain play against a certain team/player to give an example, especially if it happened numerous time like you say.

        • Oppy

          Flippy, I do not have every game recorded. And, I know this will sound like a brush off answer, but it’s the truth:

          It happened so frequently, I don’t remember specific examples.

          All I can tell you is on numerous plays last season, throughout the season, I watched as Sam Shields half-assed his pursuit or just flat out did not tackle a ball carrier as soon as he saw others in the vicinity.

          Do you happen to remember the week where the media jumped on Shields about his tackling, and he responded with “Yeah, I know, I get it. I have to tackle. I’m gonna tackle better.”? The closest thing to specific I can be is I remember the game following that particular week of practice, I nearly exploded when Shields, yet again, showed less than enthusiastic effort in pursuit and tackling of the ball carrier after making those brush off comments during the week. You could try starting with that game and seeing what you find.

          Shields did respond with physicality in one game last season- the Bears game where he mixed it up with Hester. Other than that, I found myself watching Shields’ play week in and week out, and being very disappointed with his lack luster effort to do anything outside of cover.

          I’m not a guy who just rides the bandwagon and jumps on board with fan and media rumblings. I trust my eyes. I saw serious problems with Shields. Sorry If I can’t be specific to the plays. If you watch the games and don’t see the same things, please report back.

        • Oppy

          Flippy, here is the article where Joe Whitt Jr. (Packers WR coach) discusses Sam’s shoddy tackling, and this is also the piece where Shields states that he doesn’t understand what all the commotion is about (kinda a red flag), and then says, and I qoute:

          “I get it, I get it, I’ll start tackling this sunday.”

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWO5Ai_a80M&feature=related

          The article was posted on Sat, Oct 1st, which would mean “this sunday” would have been Oct 2nd, when the Packers played the Denver Broncos.

          If you care to, watch that game and keep a keen eye on Shields. I distinctly remember losing my cool and freaking out at my TV that week, yelling about how Shields just stated he’s gets it, he’s going to start tackling, etc after a play where he clearly decided not to get involved in a tackle.

          I guess we’ll see how cloudy my memory is, at least :)

  • http://packers.blogspot.com Brandon

    I remember Joe Whitt Jr. (CB coach) spoke very highly of Shields in 2010, and I don’t remember seeing anything like that said in 2011. The Hayward selection looks like a serious challenge to his role on the defense. He took a big step backward in 2011, and he could get better, but there have to be some legitimate questions about Shields’s commitment and maturity.

  • Tarynfor12

    2010 Shields had 25 solo,4 asst =29t
    2011 Shields had 42 solo,3 asst =45t
    Tackling was a problem but lets not point a finger at Shields,the DL lack of play already forced almost twice what he had to do the previous year.Add in the misses and the question is more on the DL and LBs.They got to go thru them first.

    • Ron LC

      Interesting Taryn – I don’t imagine they keep stats on just what point of the play the tackle was made. You know – like 20 yds. down field!

    • PackersRS

      Very well said.

      It’s hard to point blame at a single player when almost everybody in the D regressed last year.

    • Oppy

      When you allow the pass to be completed, you often make the tackle.

      What Shields did not do well was pursuing ball carriers, and if he often refused to take on ball carriers head on.

      I’d like to see how many of those tackles came from behind the WR who was making the reception over his head.

  • Pat Mc

    No pressure on QB’s allows the offense to stretch and push the DB’s too much. The 3-4 DL needs to crush the pocket and get to the QB 1 or twice a game. That will also allow the LB’s (all 4) to blitz more effectively.

    Getting off the field after 3rd down will keep the DB’s fresher.

    Still, all the DB’s need to step it up.

  • Lucas

    Capers puts so much stock into turnovers which isn’t inerrantly bad. However, is field position so much of an issue when you have A-Rod and our offense? Give me more third down stops before it’s field goal time, please! Tackle, make them punt, and give Aaron the ball at the five for all I care. How many stops on third down could have been made with good tackling? C’mon Sam! Stick your nose in there!