Senior writer jclombardi profiles rookie CB Shields & Packers injury report.
Shields–“I am getting better, better“: To fully appreciate just how far Sam Shields as come – and understand just how much it took for the Green Bay Packers rookie cornerback to get to this point – you have to listen to what Joe Whitt says about him now, and what he was muttering to himself about Shields about six months ago. But first, understand this: Whitt, the Packers’ young and exuberant cornerbacks coach, is not afraid to make bold pronouncements. Before the season, he told anyone who’d listen that Tramon Williams was the team’s best cover corner. After the ultra-fast – but ultra-raw – Shields went undrafted this spring and the Packers signed him as a rookie free agent, Whitt knew what kind of potential Shields had. “Write this down,” Whitt said of Shields, the Packers’ No. 3 cornerback in their nickel defense. “Sam is going to be one of the top corners in this league in two years.” That’s heady stuff for a guy with Shields’ thin cornerback resume, but the Packers’ actions – releasing Harris – spoke even louder than Whitt’s words. “I don’t think anybody can stand here and say Sam Shields was going to be (one of) your starting corner(s) in Week 10, especially the way he arrived here as a free agent,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy, “But you never questioned the ability. He’s a young man that’s been very thorough, very coachable, very detailed in everything he’s doing. He has a tremendous upside, and we’re excited about the progress he’s made.”
Notebook–Shields catches on quickly: When the Green Bay Packers lined up to return the second-half kickoff against the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday, undrafted rookie cornerback Sam Shields broke a cardinal rule. Shields lined up near the goal line and drifted 6 yards deep in the end zone. Normally, the returner should take a knee for a touchback in that situation. “Not normally,” special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said on Thursday. “But he’s not normal.” Shields, who was timed at 4.20 seconds in the 40-yard dash, is indeed not normal. Shields returned that kickoff 49 yards — “I saw the hole and I hit it” was his matter-of-fact explanation. Because of that one return, he will line up as the kickoff returner when the Packers play at Minnesota on Sunday. Shields’ ability was evident against Dallas. But during the preseason, Shields had fumbled away chance after chance to return kickoffs and punts by routinely dropping the ball in practice and games. Through plenty of extra work before and after practice, Shields has become so sure-handed that Slocum said he wouldn’t hesitate to use Shields on punts, too. The Packers rank 21st in punt returns, with Tramon Williams averaging 8.0 yards per return. Packers injury report–Limited participation: WR Donald Driver (quad); FB Korey Hall (back); LB Clay Matthews (shin); DE Ryan Pickett (ankle); C Scott Wells (arch); CB Charles Woodson (toe). Full participation: LB Brandon Chillar (shoulder); T Chad Clifton(knee); CB Pat Lee (ankle); TE Andrew Quarless (shoulder). Coach Mike McCarthy said Pickett did “a lot more” on Thursday than Wednesday, and the goal for Driver is to practice on Friday. Bringing the heat–The Packers are tied with St. Louis for the NFL lead in sacks with 28, with Clay Matthews leading the individual race with 10.5.
Packers give Shields shot as returner: The Minnesota Vikings have Percy Harvin. The Chicago Bears have Devin Hester. The Detroit Lions have Stefan Logan. The Green Bay Packers? They’ve ridden up and down with Jordy Nelson and Pat Lee on kickoff returns and treaded water with Tramon Williams on punt returns most of the season. But in an attempt to keep up with Joneses, the Packers plan to break out their own return specialist Sunday against the Vikings. Welcome to the NFC North, Sam Shields. “If he’s back there, good luck because he’s got some speed,” said Charlie Peprah, a regular member of the special teams until his ascension to starting safety. “That will be a good changeup.” Over the past five seasons they have ranked 19th, 31st, 22nd, 31st and 32nd in kick return average. This year, they rank sixth in the NFL in average drive start (29.1), but they have lacked the momentum-changing uppercut of a breakaway threat. In his only return of the season against Dallas, Shields broke through a lane for a 49-yard gain, causing coach Mike McCarthy and special teams coach Shawn Slocum to practically hand him the kickoff return job before he reached the sideline. “We’re all pretty excited about his capabilities,” Peprah said.