With only two weeks left in the preseason, things are as unsettled as ever in the Green Bay Packers’ secondary.
In a somewhat surprising move, Jarrett Bush, who opened camp as the starting right cornerback but then watched as Davon House and Casey Hayward took turns there, was back as a starter when the Packers returned to practice Sunday.
House started the preseason opener against San Diego on Aug. 9 but remains sidelined because of a shoulder injury he sustained in that game. If he doesn’t need surgery, which won’t be determined for at least another week, he still could be a factor. So could Hayward, who started the second preseason game against Cleveland but was moved back with the No. 2s for Sunday’s practice.
Then there was Sam Shields, the team’s No. 3 cornerback for most of the last two years. He returned to practice for the first time since he injured his left elbow on Aug. 6. Shields was the first choice as the sixth defensive back in the No. 1 dime defense Sunday.
That defensive coordinator Dom Capers continued to juggle his personnel heading into the third preseason game at Cincinnati on Thursday, when the starters are expected to see their most playing time of the preseason, indicates no one has claimed those key jobs in the defensive backfield.
“You want to see players step up and take advantage of their opportunities,” McCarthy said after Sunday’s practice. “That was not the case for a large part of our football team this past Thursday, so hopefully that will happen this week.”
When the Packers opened camp with Bush at the right cornerback spot that Charles Woodson vacated upon his move to safety in the base defense, it appeared to be a case of starting with a veteran because he had the most knowledge of the system. But now that the Packers have gone back to the seventh-year veteran, who is better known for his special teams play, perhaps they’re strongly leaning toward him as their opening-day starter.
Hayward expressed no surprise that Bush was back as the starter.
“Jarrett’s been the starter; they just wanted to give me reps with the ones to see how I played,” Hayward said. “Jarrett’s actually played really good. So did I, but once you’ve already got that job and you’re playing pretty well, you’re going to stick with that.”
For Shields, time may be running out to show that he has improved from a poor 2011 season. He practiced with a protective sleeve on his left elbow, which he hurt while tackling running back Alex Green in practice.
Though Shields hasn’t figured into the mix as a starter in the base defense, his best chance may be in the dime, which Capers figures to use more of this season. But he likely needs to start showing something soon.
“Oh, there’s plenty of time left,” Shields said. “Coaches have more time to observe and to do what they have to do upstairs. I just have to focus on what I need to do.”
Before his injury, Shields had his struggles in coverage. But on Sunday, he looked solid. On one play during a team period, he had blanket coverage on Jordy Nelson, who has been perhaps the most productive receiver in camp. However, later in practice he lost rookie receiver Jarrett Boykin and allowed a catch on a crossing route.
“When you miss two weeks of practice, the first thing you worry about is his conditioning,” McCarthy said. “Schematically, I think Sam is fine there. But a never-ending focus is your fundamentals and with Sam being a younger player, that’s where you try to lock down and focus on the little things.”
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