Here’s the book on Jarrett Bush as a defender: He’s been an insurance policy to Charles Woodson for years. You wouldn’t know it, because in his seventh season with the Packers, Charles Woodson has missed a combined three games.
It’s kind of like having a backup to Aaron Rodgers. You have one, just in case, but you hope he doesn’t have to play.
The point is, Jarrett Bush’s best position on the field is as a slot cornerback. As a slot corner, you don’t have to cover down field very often and most everything is kept in front of you. It fits Bush’s strengths. He’s great on the blitz, and he’s among the best form tacklers on the team. Even Hall of Fame scribe Bob McGinn can attest to that.
Asked yesterday who are #Packers‘ best tacklers. After a long pause and checking roster, I said 1) Matthews; 2) Bush; 3) Walden. Smith is 4.
— Bob McGinn (@BobMcGinn) September 7, 2012
There’s a lot of positive qualities about Jarrett Bush. He’s probably the best special teams player on the Packers. He’s also regarded as a leader by his teammates who have voted him a postseason captain for two consecutive years. These are the reasons Bush is kept on the roster and the reason he was signed as a free agent this past offseason.
So what do you do with a backup slot cornerback when Charles Woodson plays virtually every down? You allow him to compete for other spots on the field, even though they might not be his ideal fit. Such is the case as a perimeter cornerback.
For two straight games––the playoff loss to the Giants and Sunday’s season opener versus the 49ers––the Packers have basically instituted a time share at cornerback opposite Tramon Williams. Essentially, Bush plays in the base 3-4 defense and then gives way to Shields in the nickel.
It works out that the Packers are more likely to use their base defense when opposing offenses are more likely to run. The Packers are trying to utilize Bush’s toughness and tackling ability in that capacity.
It’s hard to blame to coaching staff for using this timeshare system. They were trying to send a message to Shields who was a milquetoast tackler last year, beyond pathetic.
Shields, however, seems to have gotten the message. Between his play in the preseason and the 49ers game, he’s finally showing to be a willing tackler even if he’s not a big-time hitter. His two interceptions in the preseason haven’t gone unnoticed either.
As long as Shields is willing to tackle, he should start as the perimeter cornerback opposite Tramon Williams in both the base and nickel defenses.
That leaves Bush back on the sidelines for the most part, but that’s fine. There’s still a role for him in the dime defense, the only time two slot cornerbacks are on the field at the same time. And the word coming into the season is that the Packers are planning to use more dime defense this season, probably once they start seeing more pass-heavy teams.
After a less-than-impressive performance from M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian as the nickel safety, I’m leaning more toward keeping Woodson at safety on a full-time basis, which would actually allow Bush to be the slot cornerback.
It’s presumptuous to think that will happen after only one game, but the play of Jennings and McMillian will be under the microscope in the next few games, and they’re going to have to play better than they did on Sunday.
Such a lineup would also allow Casey Hayward to see some action in the dime defense with a hypothetical lineup of Woodson and Burnett at safety, Shields and Williams on the perimeter and Bush and Hayward in the slot.
Fans are probably have to have to become accustomed to Davon House not being a big part of the defense in 2012. His dislocated shoulder is probably just not going to allow him to play physical enough to see significant action.
Maybe he’ll get healthier and better as time goes on, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Packers used their injured reserve exemption on House to make room for suspended linebacker Erik Walden this week.
With six weeks off, perhaps House will be better equipped to participate later this season. And until then, the Packers will have to roll the dice on Shields and hope that bet pays off.
Brian Carriveau is the author of “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America” and an editor at Cheesehead TV. To contact Brian, email email@example.com.