Great post from Kevin Seifert regarding the situation at nickel cornerback.
Considering how frequently the Packers use sub packages under coordinator Dom Capers, the nickel back is almost like a 12th starter. That fact requires some pause in light of recent developments, most notably the swift ascent of undrafted rookie Sam Shields to the top of the depth chart.
Shields displayed surprisingly mature instincts in coverage and looked much more comfortable as a cornerback than he did as a kick and punt returner — the original role the Packers envisioned for him. But to add some context to the original observation, those instincts merely provided a hint that Shields had a chance to make the team, which in itself is a pretty nice result for a rookie free agent. At that point in camp, I don’t think anyone considered him a potential Week 1 nickel back.
Is Shields’ opportunity based on merit, or is it because the Packers’ options are so limited? I’m guessing that’s a question the team didn’t think it would face in the final week of the preseason.
The bolded part (mine, obviously) is the crux of the issue.
The Packers have been singing Shields’ praises for quite some time. (As have some more astute Packer bloggers) And its hard not to notice the athleticism on display every time he’s given a chance in the defensive backfield.
Unfortunately, it’s also hard not to notice his lack of refinement in coverage and the general slap-dash nature of his play. This is to be expected of course from a guy who has played all of one season at the collegiate level after several years playing wide receiver. It would not normally be expected from the Packers nickel cornerback.
But that may be just what we’re about to witness and I think its the right move.
Brandon Underwood and Pat Lee have both been up and down, with Underwood being slightly better. But neither have the suddenness of explosive playmaking ability Shields has and both are just as prone to lapses and mistakes as Shields, despite each having been with the club longer than the few months Sheilds has.
Look, how the team arrived here is immaterial in my view. They have a real problem that needs fixing and all the ganshing of teeth that is sure to flow from fans about who they should have drafted or who they should have signed in free agency only delays finding an actual solution. If Al Harris isn’t back for the Eagles game (and I would be shocked if he doesn’t start the season on the Physically Unable To Perform list) they would just be wasting time playing either Underwood or Lee ahead of Sheilds.
Throw the insanely talented and incredibly raw prospect into the fire. He will only get better and if, fate willing, Harris comes off the PUP after Week 6, the secondary will really be cooking with gas. Imagine using Sheilds and his blinding speed on blindside blitzes out of the slot… You get the idea.
The guy could be a weapon. Like the defense as a whole, he will take his lumps but he should get better every week, giving Dom Capers more and more options as the season progresses.