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Packers Could Feature New-Look Secondary in 2013

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Packers Could Feature New-Look Secondary in 2013

Following the Packers' early exit from the playoffs for a second consecutive year and a poor showing in trying to stop the offense of the San Francisco 49ers, it's clear that there need to be changes on the defensive side of the football.

Help is needed on the defensive line, and upcoming decisions on the futures of A.J. Hawk and Charles Woodson could create open spots at the second and third levels of the defense.

But perhaps there's room for more change in the secondary. Cornerback is, after all, one of the deeper positions on the team.

Cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt acknowledged last week in the aftermath of the playoff loss that there will basically be an open competition at the position, as told to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and several other outlets.

"It's going to be interesting to see who are going to be the guys who run out there on Day One," Whitt is quoted as saying, "because right now I couldn't tell you who's going to do what because the way that Sam (Shields) and Casey (Hayward) have played. And with Tramon (Williams) and (Davon) 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."

Looking back at the 2012 season, one thing is for sure. Hayward needs to be a three-down player in 2013.

It's understandable that the Packers wanted to bring Hayward along slowly in his rookie year. By playing him primarily in the subpackages upon the return of Sam Shield from a midseason injury, the Packers avoided overwhelming Hayward and prevented him from hitting the proverbial "rookie wall."

But Hayward performed so admirably, there's no way the Packers can't afford to have him out on the field 100 percent of the time beginning next season. The team-leading six interceptions were impressive, but they were just the tip of the iceberg.

Consider the analysis from ProFootballFocus.com (premium content) that has Hayward as allowing the lowest passer rating (31.1) for passes thrown in his direction among more than 100 NFL cornerbacks.

Then factor into the equation that Hayward was one of only a handful of regulars on the Packers defense that didn't commit a single penalty all season long.

Whatever shortcomings Hayward might have––namely speed––he makes up for it with instincts and an innate know-how.

There's no doubt Hayward is the slot cornerback of the present and the future, but where should he play when the Packers are in their base 3-4 defense?

Perhaps the time is now to make Hayward the Charles Woodson of 2013. In the event that Woodson will not be with the Packers next season, the Packers might be advised to turn Hayward into a safety now while he's still in the early stages of his development.

In terms of relative weakness, there's little doubt that Hayward is not yet in in the same class as Woodson from an aggressiveness and tackling standpoint.But those are qualities that can be honed as Hayward continues to work on becoming bigger and stronger with the help of an NFL-caliber strength and conditioning staff in an NFL-caliber weight facility.

By moving Hayward to safety, the Packers can also keep more of their cornerbacks on the field, a strength of the team, at least in coverage.

In addition to Hayward, it became clear in 2012 that Shields was one of the most improved players on the team and is deserving of a starting and full-time role in the future.

Speed is Shields' best asset, and he used it to his advantage in becoming ProFootballFocus.com's highest rated cover corner (among those playing at least 50 percent of all defensive snaps), allowing only one reception for every 16.3 snaps in coverage.

Shields was also able to diversify his game and not become a liability in run support. As long as he doesn't regress in either phase of the game, Shields deserves to be a perimeter cornerback on the field for all three downs.

But where does that leave Tramon Williams?

On one hand, Williams was a capable coverage cornerback in 2012. Certainly his performance against the Minnesota Vikings in the regular-season finale was deplorable, but performances against top-tier receivers like Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and Brandon Marshall were top-notch.

Williams just can't tackle anymore, however. That comes as particularly disappointing seeing as recently as 2010, Williams was an aggressive tackler. The shoulder injury that Williams sustained in 2011, including major nerve damage, is probably a big factor.

Whether Hayward plays cornerback or safety in 2013, maybe it's time to get Williams off the field in the base defense. Seeing as the Packers use the 3-4 alignment primarily on first and second downs when the opponent is more likely to run the football, at least they would be minimizing Williams' weaknesses and playing to his strengths.

House is also part of the Packers' options and could be an option to start opposite Shields at one of the perimeter cornerback positions if Hayward were to be moved to safety.

These are merely suggestions, possible solutions to what were problems in the Packers secondary in 2012.

Outside of Shields playing on the perimeter and Hayward in the slot, there are plenty of potential routes the Packers could take. Even a return by Woodson at safety isn't out of question. So is drafting a safety.

And it's possibilities like these that will make for an interesting offseason in Green Bay.

 

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (36) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Evan's picture

Is Tramon's shoulder as good as it'll get - or will it continue to recover as time goes on?

As for moving Hayward to safety, I'd prefer the Packers not mess around with one of the defense's few bright spots. Leave well enough alone, as they say.

RayRhodes's picture

I would imagine we could address our saftey concerns in some kind of organized annual selection process which features the best and brightest young athletes. What was that called again?

FourEyesBrewing's picture

What worries me is that we don't really have a big corner - most of our DBs are pretty small. Who would you match up against WRs like Calvin Johnson (6'5" 236"), and Brandon Marshall (6'4" 230lbs) or TEs like Gronkowski (6'5" 265lbs.) or Graham (6'7" 265lbs.)? Woodson and Burnett are our biggest DBs at 6'1" and around 205 lbs. All three CBs (Shields, Williams, and Hayward) are 5'11" and around 190lbs. Williams has had some great games as a shutdown corner, but I sure wouldn't mind getting a bigger safety in there to help us be a more physical team. Right now the top three FS in the draft are all about 6'1" 215lbs. Measurables aren't everything, but we also can't ignore them.

ted, of bill and ted's picture

davon house is 6' 1" i do believe

Denver's picture

I'm really torn on #21. Love the guy, but not sure after the past 2 seasons whether I want to see him out there next year.
Though I would not be a fan of switching Hayward to S either at this point.
And if #38 doesn't have a chance of his shoulder getting any better I agree he shouldn't be out there as much.
Sure seems like there could be a bunch of new guys on D next year...not that that's a bad thing.

Evan's picture

I thought Davon House was At least 6' as well.. We needs draft the honey badger if he's still there in the third round and make him change to safety!

Evan's picture

Imposter!

But you're right. House is 6'1".

Denver's picture

Isn't the Honey Badger about 5' 9" (and stoned most of the time...allegedly)

Evan's picture

Earl Thomas and Polamalu are 5'10"

And Michael Phelps smokes weed along with 85% of the NBA too.. Doesn't make you any less of an athlete

Denver's picture

If you're telling me that Mathieu could be like Earl Thomas then sign me up. IMO I don't see that happening, though.

Jake's picture

No way will Hayward play safety. He's barely over 190 pounds. The Packers need to get bigger at that position, not smaller. He'll eventually replace Williams at CB, maybe as soon as next season. If not, there's nothing wrong with keeping him at nickel back for another year.

Derek's picture

Disagree on moving Hayward to safety, he's simply too good at coverage and has the ball skills to be a good corner. Just draft a freeking safety who's 6'1" or better. Stop moving guys out of position.

Tramon can be a nickel CB, or even dime. Do to him what they did to Shields. Make him play for his roster spot and see what improvement you get.

ArodMoney's picture

Yep. Its so much harder to find a good corner than a good safety. Plus I'd rather have speed at safety in todays NFL.

Abe's picture

Tramon's cap number, I think its $7 million, means he is ripe for a restructure if he's back at all next season. I'd bring him back because you can never have enough corners, but $7 million is about double what he's worth at this point.

Tarynfor12's picture

So the teammate of Hayward from Vandy..Sean Richardson..6'2,216lbs has been cast aside already..wow.

Derek's picture

Richardson already had back surgery. not a good sign. I'd say less than 50-50 he even makes the team next year.

cow42's picture

Come to think of it... has anyone ever seen Sean Richardson, Aaron Rouse, Marques Anderson, and/or Bhawoh Jue in a room at the same time?

Could it be they're actually all the same guy?

imfubared's picture

Now that there is punny, What is even punnier is I didn't know any of these guys were Packers. But then no one else ever heard of them either that's why we got em cheap in the late rounds.
Hey Ted, the league moved on from 5'8 dbacks years ago since the avg receiver is 6'4 and physical.

Evan's picture

I don't know about "cast aside," but as an UDFA who showed basically nothing in his rookie year, he's certainly not being counted on for anything

imfubared's picture

Is he hurt of is he slow. Don't you have to play to get hurt? Oh sorry were talking the Packers who had more injuries from practice sessions than on the field.

Lars's picture

Tramon Williams is making over $8 million. There won't be an "open" competition. Williams indeed can't tackle, but either he starts or he's cut. Same with Woodson and Hawk. None of those guys should be in Green bay next season.

How about an open competition for defensive coordinator? That might really help things along.

Point Packer's picture

I'm torn on the coordinator comment, but I could see them cutting ties with Tramon. That is a lot of money to pay someone is is poor to bad at a fundamental part of the game (tackling).

That being said, this is a passing league and you can never have too much talent in your secondary. Tramon has experience. He can still shut down big-time WR's. I guess I'm torn on this one as well.

Be an interesting off-season...

Evan's picture

I'd be shocked if Tramon was cut loose/moved this off-season.

Point Packer's picture

I'd be too. Re-read my comment. It was dumb.

imfubared's picture

Maybe they keep Tramon so the d can stay on the field longer and keep Rogers from getting killed.
It was embarassing to see a rookie QB (Kaperdink) pretending to look around and adjust the play when he was really signalling to the receiver the Tramon was covering, hey your getting the ball.
It worked all day.

lebowski's picture

Of all the position groups on this team, secondary is the least concerning. By far.

Evan's picture

CBs for sure. But they could use an upgrade at safety. But it is low on the list of needs, behind DL, LB, OL and RB.

Point Packer's picture

And kicker. I'm not sold on Mason's end of season success.

Evan's picture

Good call on that. I have to think/hope Mason will be in a camp competition.

MarkinMadison's picture

There is no way Crosby will go to camp as the only kicker again. But don't hold your breath waiting for the Packers to draft a kicker either. My gut is they give him another year before drafting a replacement.

I'm in the "don't move Hayward to safety" camp. I can't believe the Packers would even consider it. If you buy the whole "Packers are soft" line and "we need to stop the run" line, then converting Hayward to safety makes no sense. They need an enforcer. Preferably a guy with enough size to dish out some hits in the run game and enough speed to run with tight ends.

some guy's picture

There's really no reason to draft a kicker. A replacement-level kicker--which would be a big step up from what Crosby gave us last season--is all we're looking for. It'd be nice to find the next Jason Hanson but chasing kickers in the draft because Blair Walsh and Legatron happened in the same year is the kind of reactionary move that I trust TT not to make.

Think about how bad Crosby's troubles were, and then think about what they really cost us this year. Suppose he hits the game-tying kick against Indy. What's the upside? Not even a victory, but a <strong>chance</strong> at a victory, the end result of which would've been the Packers getting humiliated by Kaepernick at home instead of at Candlestick. That isn't worth a draft pick, not even a late one.

some guy's picture

<em>Help is needed on the defensive line, and upcoming decisions on the futures of A.J. Hawk and Charles Woodson could create open spots at the second and third levels of the defense.</em>

Alright, admittedly we aren't quite sure what will happen with Hawk. But when it comes to Woodson, you seem to have misplaced your spellcheck, my dude. There's no c, o, u, or d in "will."

gbslapshot's picture

Why hasn't anyone mentioned McMillan yet? I know he is not ideal size but I could see him improving in second season more than I could see Hayward move. That fits TTs ways more.

imfubared's picture

Hell if they just cut Tramon WIlliams it would be vastly improved in my opinion. The other guys don't get much action because Tramon is the go to guy: the guy other QB's focus on when they need a first down.
He is the worst in the league.

imfubared's picture

Based on some articles and interviews of the coaches, there is not going to be a lot of change on this team next year. The running backs coach thinks Starks just had some bad luck and will be just fine, the D line coach thinks Neal and others will perform much better next year - reason not given.

The coaching staff thinks that injuries is what ailes this team. If they fail to clean up the mess and get the dud's we mentioned out, we will all be using expletive deletives about the coaches at the end of next year and a 6-10 showing.

imfubared's picture

Hey Ted here's a fact. If you pick a future db #1 in the sixth round, it means that 155 times he was passed over by your competition. If that db is an un-drafted free agent, then its actually much worse.
Ted, you have more of these guys on your team than any other team in football.
Most number one draft picks don't need a lot of development. Sixth round picks, need a ton of coaching and most likely will never make the pro bowl.
Ted you got a team of these guys. No defenseman was voted to the Pro bowl first team. No running back, no defensive back and no kicker.
Your main competition the Vikes sent a ton of quality players, two of which were rookies. Doesn't sound good.

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