Remember when the NFL was about taking your best 11 guys and putting them against the other team’s best 11 guys? Those days are over.
Well, kind of. You still want your best 11 against their best 11, but those 11 change throughout the game much more often than they used to.
Today’s NFL is all about matchups and sub packages. Of course, certain players are so good that they will never leave the field, but just because a guy doesn’t play all three downs doesn’t mean he’s an inferior player. It means his skills might be a better fit in specialized situations, perhaps as a pass rusher on obvious passing downs, a slot corner on third down or a run stuffer in short-yardage.
Sub packages also depend on a coordinator’s scheme and gameplan. On defense, most coordinators these days want to try and create as much confusion for the offense as possible. Causing chaos is always good, too. The coordinator is likely asking himself how he can maximize the skills of each of his players to achieve the general goal of creating confusion and causing chaos, and he knows that this goal is easier to achieve with players that have diversified skill sets in line with the coordinator’s overall defensive vision.
I think we’re getting used to this concept on the front seven. We understand that tackles like Casey Hampton play on running downs and absorb as many blockers as possible so teammates can make plays. We also know that guys like Aldon Smith specialize in rushing the quarterback and are extremely valuable on third downs and obvious passing situations.
I think more teams are trying to find that sort of versatility with their cornerbacks and I think the Packers hope they found that versatility with Casey Hayward.
Some corners will always line up on the outside. That will never change. But with receivers getting bigger and bigger and tight ends morphing into super freaks, defenses need corners that are sort of hybrid corners/safeties, players who are just as comfortable streaking down the field with a slot receiver as they are mixing it up with a TE or blitzing the quarterback. They need corners that are comfortable mucking it up in the middle of the field, but can also go outside if needed.
Charles Woodson has filled this role for the Packers over the last couple of years and more teams want to mold and create their own Charles Woodson. Of course, every team wants a player of Woodson’s caliber (and Woodson wasn’t the first player to fill this specific role), but I think you’re seeing more teams actively scouting and developing corners with the hope that they’ll fill a Woodson type of role. They want a corner that can do more in the middle of the field besides just cover a slot receiver.
If Hayward fits as that hybrid corner with the Packers, it accomplishes two things:
- Finding a replacement for Woodson. Who knows how many plays Woodson has left before he retires and focuses on making wine. If Hayward can trasition into Woodson’s role, the Packers would be thrilled.
- In the short term, it helps the Packers cover up for a weakness at free safety. Who knows if Woodson will officially move to safety. I don’t think he will, but it’s May. We don’t know. But even if he doesn’t officially make the move, you can bet he’ll be doing what he usually does, moving around the field and doing things that only a safety used to do in the “old” NFL. If Hayward can do many of those same things at a competent level, it gives Dom Capers another ingredient to use as he tries to devise a recipe to confuse defenses and cause as much chaos as possible.
Most scouting reports say Hayward is too small to play safety in the NFL even though he’s a good tackler. Hayward made 18 tackles for a loss against the run in college and he’s extremely quick and agile. Sounds like a good fit to fill the hybrid corner role to me.
I know it’s May and it’s silly to try and project roles for players this far out of training camp. But with so many new faces on the Packers defense, playing amateur defensive coordinator is a great way to kill time between now and the start of training camp.——————