Headed into training camp, the Packers’ depth at cornerback is not in question, but which players find the field is something to keep an eye on.
Returning from last season is Casey Hayward, who led the team with six interceptions. Hayward took over as the team’s nickelback when Charles Woodson suffered a broken collarbone, and the rookie went on to finish third in the voting for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. In May, we put Hayward’s rookie season under the microscope and looked ahead to what he has in store for his sophomore campaign.
The training camp competition at cornerback will feature Hayward battling it out against Tramon Williams, Sam Shields and Davon House. But of all possible scenarios, it’s hard to imagine one in which Hayward is the odd-man out.
Last season, the Packers led the NFL in nickel and dime usage. ESPN Stats & Information, the team used five or more defensive backs on 66.8 percent of the plays.
This would suggest that three of the four players will emerge from the competition and become a part of the rotation. However, the team is four-deep at the position for the first time in recent memory, so it’s certainly possible that all four players will see the field, depending on the matchup.
Williams, the now-30-year-old elder statesman of the group, has started 66 games in the past five seasons. But after suffering a shoulder injury in 2011, Williams hasn’t played at 100 percent the past two seasons. According to JSOnline.com, he has worked his way back to being closer to full strength.
And without Charles Woodson in the fold, Williams, in some capacity, will take on a larger leadership role in the secondary.
Question: Which three players “start” at cornerback?
Shields signed his restricted free agent tender to remain with the team in 2013, but he and the Packers have yet to agree on a long-term extension, perhaps in part because they still have a largely unknown commodity in House.
Last summer, the position battle focused on the starting spot opposite Williams. Prior to suffering a shoulder injury in the preseason opener, House appeared to be in line to win the job. Shields capitalized on House being sidelined and, after a disappointing 2012, had a great rebound year.
Best guess: Tramon Williams, Davon House, Casey Hayward
Despite having two consecutive slightly disappointing seasons, Williams is still a good player. According to Pro Football Focus, opposing quarterbacks had a 74.3 passer rating when throwing at Williams–tenth-best among the 39 cornerbacks who played at least 75 percent of their team’s snaps.
If two of the spots are spoken for by Williams and Hayward, the third spot will come down to House and Shields. And if both players are healthy, the competition will be one to watch throughout the summer.
House, headed into his third season, has 11 game appearances. But despite the fact that Shields is the more proven player after appearing in 39 games through three years, House had the upper hand on Shields last summer.
If he’s healthy, I think Davon House is a starter.——————
Marques is a Journalism student, serving as the Sports Editor of UW-Green Bay\'s campus newspaper The Fourth Estate and a Packers writer at Jersey Al\'s AllGBP.com. Follow Marques on Twitter @MJEversoll.