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Nixon finds his footing on defense

May 20, 2013
 

James Nixon was bound for the UFL when the call finally came in.

After receiving his release from the Arizona Cardinals, the 6-foot, 186-pound cornerback was ready to try his hand elsewhere when the Green Bay Packers rang in the 11th hour last September with a tryout offer and a chance to join the team’s practice squad.

Nixon made the most of the opportunity en route to spending the remainder of the season working on the Packers’ scout return team and learning the nuances of playing cornerback, a position he first started playing after transferring as a senior from Temple to California (Pa.).

Splitting time as a running back and receiver, Nixon finished his career at Temple with 42 carries for 322 yards, 13 receptions for 373 yards and a 25.8-yard per return average on 41 kickoffs with two touchdowns.

Upon his transfer, California already had a top-flight No. 1 receiver in current New York Jets wide receiver Thomas Mayo, so they brought up the idea to Nixon of switching to defense.

The move wasn’t easy, but provided Nixon with a fresh start he was looking for.

“It was very difficult, but sometimes coach would sit there and give me terminology,” Nixon said. “I’d look at the other DBs and they catch it right away and I’m still stuck like, ‘Ah, want to run that by me one more time?’ But being here with the coaches and players taking time aside to help me out, I’m starting to learn it a lot quicker, a lot better now.”

The Packers have succeeded in the past with converting receivers to cornerbacks with Sam Shields shooting to the top of that list.

A former wide receiver at the University of Miami, Shields signed in Green Bay as an undrafted free agent one season removed from making the switch from offense to defense.

There’s been the occasional bump in the road, but Shields molded into one of the top defenders in the league last year. According to Pro Football Focus, no NFL cornerback was tougher to foil than Shields, who led the league in coverage snaps per reception (16.3).

The Packers’ cornerback position remains one of the deepest on the roster, especially after the selection of Iowa cornerback Micah Hyde in the fifth round of last month’s draft.

Whether it’s working on defense or special teams, Nixon hopes he’s the next to follow and spent the offseason working to solidify his understanding of the Packers’ defense.

“My main thing was to learn the basics of defenses because I played offense, so any type of formation I had to relearn from a defensive prospective,” Nixon said. “After that, I started working on technique, working on my eyes and play recognition. It was kind of gruesome, especially since I was doing it by myself, so it was really gruesome, but I feel like it’s paying off.”
-whodkiew@pressgazettemedia.com and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.

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