Green Bay — There will be no guarantees at cornerback for the Packers in 2013. On Tuesday, cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr. made that much clear. When players report back to Green Bay, four cornerbacks may engage in an open competition.
Whitt praised the improvement of third-year corner Sam Shields and indicated that Shields, Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward and Davon House will all have an opportunity to start next season.
“It’s going to be interesting to see who are going to be the guys who run out there on Day One,” Whitt said, “because right now I couldn’t tell you who’s going to do what because the way that Sam and Casey have played. And with Tramon and House there, there’s four guys that are vying for two spots. Maybe three with nickel. It will be interesting to see who gets it.”
Making things is interesting is Shields. After a strong finish this season, he may be ready to take on the opposition's top wide receiver next season. Upon returning from his high ankle sprain Dec. 9, Shields' performance "was comparable, if not better than Tramon’s in 2010," Whitt said. In 2010, Williams' string of big plays helped the Packers reach the Super Bowl.
Of course, it was only one year ago Shields was plagued by missed tackles.
Whitt said Shields cut his missed tackles by half this season and called him the best tackler on the team.
“Him and (Jarrett Bush) are the most physical corners that we have, but he’s the best tackling one that we have,” Whitt said. “He put that on film. That’s not me talking. …The only reason I’m talking about it is because he took so much criticism in the way he performed last year through training camp. And to come back and play — especially the last six games — the way that he’s played, I think is very encouraging to what he can be in the future.”
In Shields’ final six games, he had 21 tackles, 11 pass break-ups and four interceptions. He opened up Green Bay’s loss at San Francisco with a pick returned for a touchdown.
Whitt wouldn’t say that Williams -- the team’s No. 1 cornerback since 2010 -- necessarily had a down season. The coach said he still "graded out pretty well." But Shields’ finish and Hayward’s standout rookie season has made things interesting heading into next season.
Excelling in the slot, the second-round pick from Vanderbilt finished fifth in the NFL with six interceptions.
"Casey probably played better than anyone, and you all, expected him to play and probably played better than I expected him to play," Whitt said. "So the competition in the room has gotten better. So that’s the case.
“I believe in not allowing anybody to be comfortable. We don’t work in a business where we can get comfortable. And so, the guys, I always say their play will dictate who runs through the tunnel. The guys that play the best will play, that practice the best, that have the best test. We’re about winning championships and we fell short. That’s our charge.”