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Young DBs solidify roles

Nov. 6, 2013
 
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Young defensive backs Sam Shields, Jerron McMillian and Casey Hayward won key jobs in the Packers’ secondary with their play Thursday night against Chicago. All three played greater roles than they did in the regular-season opener less than a week ago in the Packers’ 23-10 win over the Bears – Shields as a starter, McMillian and Hayward in sub packages. Their performances probably solidified their positions, depending on how defensive coordinator Dom Capers handles Davon House’s return from a shoulder injury in the next few weeks. “As long as we stay healthy, and we can keep these young guys coming along, we’ll get better as a defense just because of game experience,” Capers said. “When you take young guys and if you feel they have good ability, what they have to do is they have to gain that experience and start to play with more confidence, and you start to see them making more plays maybe they weren’t making when you started out.” Shields played in only the dime package in the regular-season opener against San Francisco but against the Bears replaced Jarrett Bush as the starting left cornerback. With Tramon Williams matched on the Bears’ best receiver (Brandon Marshall) on most snaps, Shields usually covered Alshon Jeffrey, often with little or no help, and held Jeffrey to one catch for seven yards. McMillian, a fourth-round draft pick this year, was beaten out for the job as a safety in the nickel and dime packages by M.D. Jennings for the opener but replaced Jennings in the second half of that game and then played from start to finish against the Bears. McMillian finished with an interception, a pass defended and two tackles. Hayward, a second-round pick this year, was the sixth defensive back in the dime, which meant Bush didn’t get any snaps on defense. Hayward had three tackles. “I thought they did a nice job,” Capers said. “I think they continue to improve and they’re going to be a big part of helping us improve as a defense.” McMillian had one shot as a nickel and dime safety with the No. 1 defense the final week of training camp and appeared to play fine against the Kansas City Chiefs in the preseason finale. But Capers went with Jennings against the 49ers because he’d given him almost all the practice snaps with the No. 1s in the offseason and training camp. “When you’re getting ready to play that first game, you’ve got to just see the consistency through the preseason,” Capers said. “And with young guys, there’s a lot to learn. So I guess there’s more of a confidence level in a guy that’s had more reps, you’ve seen him more on the practice field, all those kind of things. "I feel good about the way (McMillian) played last night. I always feel, being accountable for your job and taking care of your responsibilities that over a period of time – that’s our job, we’ve got to evaluate those things. Then you have to make a decision based off the body of work that you see, and it changes.” House probably would have been the starting cornerback opposite Williams but has been out since injuring his shoulder in the preseason opener Aug. 9. He returned to practice on a very limited basis last week, and might be ready to play in a week or two. But he has to play with a restrictive shoulder harness, and it’s unclear how effective he’ll be when he returns.  

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