DALLAS – One of the more intriguing matchups to watch on Super Bowl Sunday will be when Packers cornerback Sam Shields is lined up across from Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace: a classic contest of speed vs. speed.
It will be Shields' claimed 40-yard dash time of 4.2 seconds against the fleet feet of Wallace, who Packers cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt calls one of the fastest players in the game.
"I think he's one of the fastest players, not talking about wide receivers," said Whitt. "I think he's one of the fastest players. He can really, really accelerate; he can get in an out of cuts, and he's vertically fast, so he's a challenge."
Shields exceeded expectations this season. As an undrafted rookie out of Miami making the transition from wide receiver, he won the nickel cornerback job and went on to start eight games this season, including the playoffs.
The progress he's made since signing a free agent contract this past spring was evident during the NFC Championship victory over the Chicago Bears in which Shields earned unofficial MVP honors with four tackles, two interceptions and sack during the game that catapulted the Packers to the Super Bowl.
For his next challenge, Shields will be facing Wallace, the Steelers speedster who already beat the Packers once in 2009 scoring while the game-winning touchdown reception from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as time expired.
Much has changed since that time. Wallace beat backup cornerback Josh Bell, a midseason pickup, on that particular play, and few would argue the entire Packers has improved by leaps and bounds since that time.
The Packers have the no. 2 defense in the NFL this season against the pass and are no. 2 overall. Perhaps a big reason for the improvement is the presence of Shields and Pro Bowl cornerback Tramon Williams, who are both equipped to keep up step-for-step with opposing receivers.
According to Coach Whitt, he only expects Shields to face off against Wallace about 50% of the time as the Packers rookie lines up almost exclusively on the right side of the field. But when he's not, Williams provides just as much of a challenge.
"They could put him on Tramon's side, and Tramon runs just as well as Sam," said Whitt, "so it really doesn't matter to me who's on him."
Wallace had a fantastic season for the Steelers in 2010 catching 60 passes for 1,257 yards and 10 touchdown receptions, although he's been held to only four catches for 26 yards and no touchdowns so far during the playoffs.
Shields will be relied upon to continue to limit Wallace and is looking forward to the challenge.
"It's going to be a big challenge," said Shields. "You know, I'm fast, he's fast. It's going to be fun. Sunday's the game, and I can't wait."
At the very least he's hoping for an outcome better than the last time the Packers faced the Steelers a season ago. Even though Shields wasn't with the Packers in 2009 when Wallace made them pay with his last-second touchdown in Pittsburgh, the defensive back says he's watched the film from that game and hopes the outcome of the Super Bowl will be different.
"We watched the film, and people told me about it," said Shields. "They don't have it on too long, because it disappoints them. He got the game-winning touchdown, and we went back and made some corrections just by looking at that, and I don't think it'll happen again."
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