Hayward Has Plenty of Work To Do

The fourth year veteran has some holes in his game that he needs to improve on before the Packers annoint him a starter. 

The departure of cornerback Tramon Williams in free agency has opened up a starting spot opposite Sam Shields. Many thought that spot might end up belonging to Davon House, until he was signed away in free agency by the Jacksonville Jaguars. House truly fit the bill from a physical standpoint, standing 6' 1" and weighing in at nearly 200 pounds, he was an ideal specimen and had demonstrated an ability to play the press-man technique Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers likes his guys to be able employ when they see fit.

Clearly, the Jaguars saw a guy they thought could start, signing him early on in free agency. 

The Packers, meanwhile, are left with an open starting spot. The most obvious way this plays out (and indeed the way I think it WILL play out regardless of everything I'm about to write) is that Casey Hayward takes the vacant starting spot outside and Micah Hyde continues working in the slot. Yes, there will undoubtedly be competition throughout camp, but this seems the most likely outcome. 

That's the way things look right now, in late April prior to the draft. But that path is not without risk. 

First, lets get something straight - Casey Hayward is damn good. His rookie year, and the production resulted in his inclusion on Pro Football Weekly's All-Rookie Team, was not a fluke. He has an unquestioned knack for the football and does a great job in zone of reading the quarterback's eyes and sensing how route combinations are developing. 

However, watching tape of his entire career so far in Green Bay will show you a player who is much more comfortable in zone than he is man, and one who has some bad habits when it comes to technique that were visible his rookie year that have yet to be fully corrected four years into his career. 

The play below is from his rookie year. He's playing the boundary here with no safety help. Hayward commits a common sin for young corners, opening his hips far too early, trying to stack the receiver to the outside. Cornerbacks in this situation are taught to stay square and pedal until their man commits to his break.

Obviously, this is a rookie we're looking at. Technique issues are to be expected, especially at one of the game's most difficult positions. 

Now, fast forward to the second to last play against the Seahawks in the NFC Championship game. This time Hayward is playing what many consider to be his favored position, in the slot. The call is man underneath, and Hayward, now a veteran of three seasons in the NFL, makes the same mistake he was making his rookie year. His hips are open almost immediately. 

Against Arizona, Hayward was beaten out the back door. Against Seattle, he lets the receiver just walk through the front. 

If Hayward is to be trusted to play the boundary in Capers' scheme, he is going to have to learn to either disrupt guys off the line of scrimmage or be much more refined in his technique. 

Speaking of disruption and getting physical, there's another issue with Hayward's game that can't be ignored. Much was made last season of the move of Clay Matthews inside and the subsequent improvement of the Packers' run defense. What got a lot less coverage in the media but was nearly as important was the decision the Packers made to use Micah Hyde in the slot exclusively, rather than continuing the rotation between him and Hayward. The reasoning was simple - Hyde offered a much more physical presence in nickel, Capers' favored personnel grouping, and was a much better tackler. 

Hayward is not unwilling when it comes to tackling, but it is most certainly an area where he must improve. Of course, the NFL is filled with cover corners who aren't good tacklers. If he continues to produce turnovers the way he has throughout most of his career, it's something the Packers can live with. 

Because there is little argument when it comes to his production. We all remember the interceptions his rookie year. Injury ruined his 2013 season. In 2014, though he only played 470 snaps, he tied for the team lead with three interceptions. (He came very close to two others as well.) That's pretty incredible when the guy he tied with, Tramon Williams, played 1,158 snaps. 

There's little doubt the battle for the starting corner job will be one of the most heavily scrutinized come training camp. There could be a draft pick or two in the mix, as well as second year player Demetri Goodson, who needs to start converting his raw athleticism into something resembling technique on the football field. But the favorite for the job is Hayward. He has plenty to work on this summer. 

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Comments (13)

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Idiot Fan's picture

April 20, 2015 at 09:45 am

I was concerned at first when Tramon left (expected) and House left (unexpected). But it seems like the Packers didn't try too hard to keep either of them, which suggests to me that they are comfortable with what they have. That means that I have to trust that the coaches, who see these guys every day in practice, believe that these guys are good enough to take that next step. I'm still slightly concerned about the things Nagler mentions above, but I'm more concerned at this point about Hayward's durability and depth. Hopefully the draft will help with that.

Also, totally random point, but last off-season, there was some talk about how Shields got overpaid (I don't really agree, but it was a lot of money). But man, after this offseason, that really doesn't seem like much money at all. I would so much rather have Shields at his contract than Maxwell at his.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

April 21, 2015 at 01:13 am

Dear Idiot fan: Yeah, maybe, but I don't think so. You don't think GB tried very hard to keep House or Williams, and you think GB didn't try hard because of the confidence they have in Hayward to play CB outside. I think the contract offers Williams and House received blew poor TT's mind. I can't think of one commenter who thought we should match. Perhaps you're right about trusting the coaches in that I (and some of the commenters, apparently) think we can "get by" with Hayward at Tramon's old position.

But make no mistake: GB would be moving Hayward from a position at which he excels and might be as good as anyone is to a position with new responsibilities without really knowing whether Hayward can handle those new responsibilities or whether he will break down physically. GB will lose 426 very high quality snaps it got from Hayward in the slot and give him 1000+ snaps that are likely to be mediocre. And to be honest, I would settle for mediocre right now, and hope for better.

We might find out what TT really thinks (since I don't claim to have a direct pipeline into his thought processes) during the draft. OTOH, we might not find out. It depends on how the draft plays out.

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NickPerry's picture

April 21, 2015 at 07:26 am

I think your right on about blowing Teddies mind. I mean $6.25 million for House and $7 Million for Williams is excessive to say the least. The House deal is nuts considering the number of games he's been injured over the last 4 years. Like others I was hoping the Packers could keep House, with no state tax and $72 Million in Cap Space the Jags had the Packers never had a chance IMO. He wanted to get paid, winning was a distant 2nd.

Tramon Williams

16 games, 3 INT, 0 Sacks, 14 passes defended, 1 fumble recovery, 65 tackles, 12 assists
110 targets, 70 receptons allowed, 63.6%, 12.2 Y/R against, 379 YAC allowed, 10 TDs allowed, 106.5 QB rating allowed.

Those are Williams 2014 stats and much of the time he was going against a #2 guy right? I don't think Hayward is really going to do any worse, matter of fact I think he'll do better than that, at least I hope so.

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stockholder's picture

April 20, 2015 at 11:21 am

There is NO instant starter at CB, with #30. Any CB that is a BPA should be gone. MANY HAVE THE SIZE AND SPEED. BUT FEW HAVE THE Right HIP Movement. GIVE THE SHOT TO HYDE AND HAYWARD. Their Confidence is High.

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DrealynWilliams's picture

April 21, 2015 at 05:02 pm

"There is NO instant starter at CB, with #30"

You're right and wrong.

You're right because #37 and#29 are considered vets and it's their jobs to lose. So, the CB at #30 wouldn't be an instant starter.

You're wrong because we don't have a dire need for CB. If we had the same CBs as -- hmm, let's see -- the Bucs or Redskins, a CB at #30 would be a shoo-in for a starting position.

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4thand1's picture

April 20, 2015 at 02:45 pm

The play he got beat on in the Seattle game in OT concerns me. He got dejocked at the line and was 2 steps behind.

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ray nichkee's picture

April 20, 2015 at 04:44 pm

Hayward didnt get beat on the that play, the whole team did during the last few minutes. It seemed like they were holding their breath as badly as i was. I didnt sit down until it was over. The packers staff obviously has confidence in the current roster and i cant help but think they will be ok unless an injury occurs. The backfield may not shine this year but it will be restocked sooner than later.

Pressure the quarterback and score more points than the other team. Can it get done?

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PackerAaron's picture

April 21, 2015 at 12:29 pm

"Hayward didnt get beat on the that play"

Sorry. He most certainly did.

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ray nichkee's picture

April 21, 2015 at 06:20 pm

You are correct, i was just refering to the whole team meltdown with a bit of sarcasm for some humor.

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Allan Murphy's picture

April 20, 2015 at 06:34 pm

he's fast

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Doug_In_Sandpoint's picture

April 21, 2015 at 10:48 am

Can we just agree not to show footage of any plays in the Seattle game no matter how perfectly they make the point? Aaron, it is still too raw for me.

I'm really trying, but I'm just not ready yet...

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PackerAaron's picture

April 21, 2015 at 12:29 pm

My deepest apologies Doug. ;)

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

April 23, 2015 at 12:38 am

I've been remiss. Mr. Nagler, this was an extremely high quality article. It has a definite point of view; it is written with excellent clarity; it is well sourced; and has good examples of your points. Well Done, Sir!

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