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Hayward, a rookie, looks like a playmaker

Aug. 2, 2012
 

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Green Bay Packers cornerback Casey Hayward during training camp practice at Ray Nitschke Field on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012. / Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette

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The rookie didn’t want to brag. One week into his first NFL training camp, Green Bay Packers cornerback Casey Hayward knows there’s still a long way to go.

But when asked whether he knew how many interceptions he’s grabbed during the first week of practice, Hayward paused slightly before giving his response.

“I got three so far,” he said, smiling. “I don’t like to keep up with it, but I have three so far.”

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Before the Packers made Hayward their second-round selection in last April’s NFL draft, he was a multifaceted playmaker at Vanderbilt where he tied the program record with 15 career interceptions.

Along with his flash, Hayward has impressed during the onset of camp with his ability to hang in coverage with receivers much larger than his 5-foot-11, 192-pound frame.

During Wednesday’s practice, Hayward nabbed an interception on a deep lob to 6-foot-4 wide receiver Tori Gurley during passing drills before later snagging another interception after Brandian Ross tipped a pass during the team period.

With the Packers looking to improve a secondary that allowed a league record for passing yards a year ago, Hayward appears to have the tools to contribute this season.

Still, Packers cornerback coach Joe Whitt is keeping expectations reasonable for the 22-year-old who has yet to play in a preseason game.

“He’s right about where he’s (supposed) to be,” Whitt said. “He’s done some good things and done some things that aren’t so good.”

With Charles Woodson moving to safety in the team’s base defense, it’s opened a spot at starting cornerback. Whitt said he’s used the early part of camp to rotate the top four candidates — Hayward, Jarrett Bush, Sam Shields and Davon House — for the starting spot across from veteran Tramon Williams.

Although House has merited more first-team reps behind a solid week of practice, it remains a wide-open competition.

“Really right now, there are three guys that are fighting for that, four guys maybe, but we’ll see,” Whitt said.

Tough cuts ahead

Taking a short glance around the team locker room Thursday, Aaron Rodgers anticipated a lot of difficult decisions for Packers general manager Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy.

With competition flooding several prominent positions, the Packers quarterback believes this could be the toughest cuts the team has made during his seven training camps under the Thompson/McCarthy umbrella.

That includes on the defensive line where eight of the 12 players on the roster have two or more accrued NFL seasons, including veterans Daniel Muir, Phillip Merling and Anthony Hargrove, who signed as free agents during the offseason.

Two others, Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels, are rookies whom the Packers appear to have plans for.

“It’s tough,” Rodgers said. “This is going to be I think the most difficult cuts that Ted and his staff, and Mike have to do because we’re deep. Just look at that position group right to my left on the defensive line. There’s a lot of guys in that group who are probably going to be playing big minutes for other teams because we don’t have the room for them we’re so deep, so it’s tough.”

Ross ready for Family Night

A year ago, Brandian Ross stole the show at the Packers’ annual Family Night, albeit an abbreviated one.

An undrafted rookie out of Youngstown State, the 6-foot, 191-pound cornerback made a name for himself after intercepting Rodgers on the first offensive play of the night and returning it for about a 20-yard touchdown.

It turned out to be the biggest bang of the practice that was called off after only 20 minutes due to inclement weather.

Ross didn’t make the team but wound up on the practice squad for the entire season.

Ross, 22, is back in the familiar position of proving himself entering his second Family Night, which takes place Friday at 6:30 p.m.

“I remember Coach Whitt saying in the previous meeting, ‘Someone needs to make a play,’” Ross said. “That’s all I was trying to do and it just happened to come my way on the very first play. It’s pretty much the same feeling right now — someone has to come out and make a big play.”

The Packers have had bad luck with the weather on Family Night in recent years. In 2008, there was a lightning delay that came on the same day Brett Favre flew into Green Bay to express his desire to come out of retirement.

The following year, a storm wiped out the entire night before 2010 went off without a hitch. Based on the current forecast, it doesn’t appear weather should be a factor for today’s event.

Sloppy start

Packers head coach Mike McCarthy categorized the team’s first night practice Thursday as an “up-and-down night” with pre-snap penalties becoming an issue down the final stretch of team drills.

Still, the Packers offense seemed to get off to a smooth start a move-the-ball period where Aaron Rodgers led the offense down the field and capped the drive with a touchdown pass to a diving Jermichael Finley in the back of the end zone.

Overall, McCarthy hoped to see more in terms of discipline one week into training camp.

“Today wasn’t our best practice,” McCarthy said. “We need to get the installs eight and nine in and it needs to be cleaner. You can talk whatever you want installs, practice, game-plan practice, the number of pre-snap penalties is totally unacceptable.”

There were five new injuries that occurred, including tight end D.J. Williams who came down with a back injury after getting off to a hot start to training camp.

Linebacker Desmond Bishop (calf) and John Kuhn (knee) have both returned to positional drills and will continue their treatment schedule this morning, but McCarthy said “will probably not go” during today’s Family Night scrimmage.

whodkiew@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.

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