Green Bay Packers coaching staff impressed with rapid rise of cornerback Sam Shields : Packers Insider

Green Bay Packers coaching staff impressed with rapid rise of cornerback Sam Shields

November 12, 2010 by  
Filed under News

Nov 12, 2010 ~ by Kareem Copeland

~Three months ago Sam Shields was an undrafted rookie who couldn’t catch and whose best attribute was the ability to run fast. He couldn’t hold onto punts or kickoffs and had played cornerback for less than a year.

Nine weeks into the 2010 NFL season, Shields’ play gave the Green Bay Packers the flexibility to cut a two-time Pro Bowler.

That’s an awfully rapid ascension for a 22-year-old.

“Back in training camp I know everybody was concerned about going into the season with Sam Shields and where we’d be,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “Not many people knew who Sam Shields was, and I didn’t know much about Sam Shields.”

“That’s a tough position to stick a rookie out there, because everybody knows, it didn’t take them long (Sunday) to try to go after him,” DC Dom Capers said.

Packers fans certainly know who Shields is now that the franchise released cornerback Al Harris, who started 102 games for the team since 2003. Harris needed major reconstruction surgery after a complete blowout of the left knee in Week 11 of the 2009 season. The Packers placed him on the physically unable to perform list before the regular season began and he didn’t return to practice until Oct. 19.

Meanwhile, Shields climbed the depth chart during training camp and started the season as the team’s nickel back — a job he has yet to relinquish.

The Packers cut Harris on Monday and coach Mike McCarthy explained the move was in the best interest of the “big-picture” plans of the team. Shields has become a huge part of the painting.

Cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said he never expected Shields to transition so quickly.

“When we first got him, he didn’t understand coverages,” Whitt said. “Just base coverages and base techniques. Now he’s a defensive back. He’s not a receiver playing defensive back.

“It’s a credit to that young man because he came in here and he does not act like a rookie. He acts like a guy who’s been in the league 3-4 years. He doesn’t know defense very well yet, but he’s learning. He’s a mature man that’s taking a professional approach at his game and his profession.”

The Packers haven’t gone out of their way to hide the rookie in the defensive scheme, and Shields has come out on the positive end more often than not. He locked down Lee Evans in a 34-7 win against the Buffalo Bills. Shields picked off the first pass of his nine-game career in the 45-7 rout of the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. He pinned Miles Austin to the left sideline on a deep ball and made a one-armed grab with his right hand — the wrong hand.

“Other than catching it with the wrong hand, he played it perfectly,” Whitt said. “It’s just impossible to catch a ball like that, which he did. You would think you catch it with your stop hand. It’s just really a splash play.

“When the ball went up, I said, ‘OK, he’s in good position. Wow, he caught the ball.’ It was amazing to me.”

Shields made his second “splash play” of the game with a 49-yard kickoff return to open the second half. The Packers envisioned Shields as a kickoff and punt returner because of his 4.2 second 40-yard speed, but he couldn’t hold onto the ball.

“That was way back,” Shields said. “Each week I’ve gotten better and better.”

Jordy Nelson and Pat Lee handled the kickoff return duties, but Shields continued to periodically work on it in practice. The coaching staff turned to Shields last week with Lee (ankle strain) and Donald Driver (quad) inactive. Nelson had an increased role on offense with Driver out, so continuing to use him in the return game would have been a risk.

Shields has taken extra reps catching the ball. Special teams coach Shawn Slocum cited other speedy returners across the NFC North — Devin Hester (Chicago), Percy Harvin (Minnesota), Stefan Logan (Detroit) — as examples of how a dynamic returner can flip field position and change a game. He hopes Shields can be a similar threat.

“If I was getting ready to play us, I’d be scared to death of him,” Slocum said. “We have seen the speed since the day he got here, and speed kills. … We’ll see. He needs to prove it. It’s one big play. As we move forward he’ll get more opportunities, and now what he needs to do is go score. It’s that simple.

“I told him before the game, you need to do three things. No. 1, I want you to catch the ball first. No. 2, I want you to run fast. And No. 3, I want you to make sure you jump high enough on the Lambeau Leap.”

The Packers haven’t had a kickoff returned for a score since 2000 when Allen Rossum ran one back against Indianapolis.

Though the Harris move and a strong game against the Cowboys has made Shields a popular topic this week, expectations should be tempered.

Shields is still raw with a limited knowledge of defenses. He has to tackle better and has been beaten in coverage on occasion. Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant snatched a fade over Shields for their lone touchdown.

Full story HERE

Help Us! Comment about this Packer Article

This is a community of fanatical Packer fans. Please tell us what you think about this post....