Green Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields (37) jars the ball loose from Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy (25) in the third quarter during Sunday's Wild Card round game at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. / File/Press-Gazette
The 2010 NFL draft came and went and the phone never rang for cornerback Sam Shields.
“I was sick,” said Shields on Wednesday, recalling the vivid memory of being passed over by all 32 NFL teams.
Fast forward nine months and Shields is playing a key role as the nickel back on the Green Bay Packers’ No. 2 rated scoring defense and preparing for the NFC championship game.
No one would have guessed that Shields would emerge from the bottom of the Packers’ depth chart and become such an integral part of a defense on the cusp of a Super Bowl berth.
Not even Shields.
“I never thought of this (happening),” said Shields as a crowd of reporters hovered around his locker. “It’s crazy. This is my first championship game ever since Pop Warner flag football. I don’t count that, and plus we lost, so I mean it’s very exciting for me.”
That sick feeling after the draft was due in part to Shields getting slapped with a misdemeanor possession of marijuana charge last March. Shields claimed he was falsely arrested and wasn’t using drugs. Although the charges were later dropped, Shields’ draft status plummeted.
But that didn’t stop seven teams from showing free agent interest, including the Packers, who signed Shields for a modest $7,500 bonus and minimum contract.
“That was another frustrating moment because there were a lot of teams calling and I didn’t know what to do,” recalled Shields, who consulted his college coach, Randy Shannon, and his father. They advised him to sign with the Packers.
It turned out to be the steal of the off-season for the Packers, who were desperate for secondary help after getting lit up in the first round of the playoffs last season for 51 points.
“At first I was worrying about me making the team on special teams,” said Shields. “That’s crazy, because that’s all I was thinking about.”
But Shields, with his blazing speed and man-to-man coverage skills, had much more to offer.
“He’s been great, man,” said Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Woodson. “I think you have a young guy who came in who really had no fear, came in with a ton of athletic ability.
“He took the challenge of being an undrafted player and having an opportunity to come in and play for this team, and he took coaching well.”
Woodson and fellow cornerback Tramon Williams have served as ideal role models for Shields, especially with their film study habits.
“I’m learning something new every day, especially from those guys,” said Shields.
Woodson credits cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt with bringing Shields along with his unique teaching skills. And Shields has done his part by soaking up everything.
“He’s a young guy that takes notes,” said Woodson. “You don’t see a lot of young guys that come in and take notes.”
According to Whitt, there has been a domino effect in the secondary this season. The coverage ability of Shields and Williams has freed up Woodson to move around on defense, which has caused all sorts of problems for opposing offenses.
Williams said he’s not surprised Shields has developed so fast, even considering he played receiver until his senior season at the University of Miami.
“Some people have it and some people don’t,” said Williams. “He had it when he first came in. Some people take time to progress with it. He has it right now and he’s going to get better over time.”
If Shields continues his ascension, he could become one of the NFL’s next shut-down cornerbacks. But he brushes off any suggestions of stardom.
“I can’t let that get to my head,” Shields said. “I’ve got to take one game at a time. (It’s) Chicago this week. I’m going to go after it.”