Head coach Mike McCarthy might have been unwilling to publicly anoint undrafted rookie Sam Shields as the Packers nickel cornerback on Monday for the season opening game against the Philadelphia Eagles, but team leader Charles Woodson pretty much did it for him.
"He's going to be playing," said Woodson. "He's going to coming in as our third corner. Things are going to be moving fast out there, and he's going to have to be able to comprehend what's going on out there and know what he's doing. The important thing is really, go out there and be an athlete. That's what he is."
McCarthy was asked who the nickel cornerback would be, but his response–or lack thereof–wasn't surprising.
For one, he doesn't want to tip his hat to the Eagles. For another, he wants to be fair to all players. After all, Monday was only the first day of practice in preparation for a game that was still six days away.
"We’ll work through that this week," said McCarthy. "I would like to take that as far as I need to as far as who is lining up where. I know you guys respect that."
But with reports out of Green Bay indicating Brandon Underwood being the only player held out of practice yesterday, odds are Shields will be the nickel cornerback on Sunday at 3:15 Central time when the Packers travel to Philadelphia.
The rookie out of Miami has shown obvious speed having run a 40-yard dash in 4.2 seconds, according to Shields himself. He's also shown the raw yet promising talent that has got helped him beat the odds to go from being undrafted to making the 53-man roster.
"It's a blessing to me," said Shields. "That's something I've always dreamed of, getting to the NFL. Now making the roster just made it more exciting. I'm ready to play now, knowing that I'm on the team."
A former wide receiver in college prior to his senior year, Shields also has shown more ball skills than the other young cornerbacks on the roster during both training camp and the preseason. Shields had two interceptions during exhibition play to help show for it.
Making the transition from receiver to cornerback during his senior year at the University of Miami, Shields is used to having a target on his back and having opposing teams pick on him.
"I'm prepared. There's been a lot of things on my back from college on up," said Shields. "There's nothing new. I just got to keep working hard and moving forward."
That could be exactly the case during the Eagles game when quarterback Kevin Kolb has to decide between throwing to receivers covered by veterans like Woodson or Tramon Williams and an untested rookie like Shields.
In a system where the nickel defense typically spends more than 50% of the time on the field during any given game, Shields is going to play a lot. And he's probably going to see the kitchen sink thrown at him as well.
Woodson, the defending NFL Defensive Player of the Year, isn't going to have a lot of advice for Shields.
"There ain't a lot you can tell him," said Woodson. "Just go out there and play ball. An important thing is going to be for him to not go out there and just get a mental block."
Shields said he has been hitting the playbook as much as possible to get prepared for any eventuality. Seeing as he hasn't officially been told he's nailed down the nickel cornerback job, he's not taking anything for granted.
"It's going to be just like the first time in the preseason," said Shields of Sunday's game. "Strap it up and you just gotta play. In the regular season, there's going to be a lot coming at you like more double moves, things like that. I just got to keep working."
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