Eric Baranczyk analysis: Shields adds savvy to go with his speed

Aug. 18, 2013

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Look for Sam Shields to start at outside cornerback, with Casey Hayward coming in as the slot cornerback in the nickel defense. Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media


The Green Bay Packers player quietly having as good a camp as anyone is cornerback Sam Shields.

With cornerbacks Tramon Williams (knee) and Casey Hayward (hamstring) out because of injuries, Shields is playing a key role with the starting defense in the preseason. You don’t hear his name much, and the only time you do is when he’s making a tackle. If you’re a defensive back and only getting your name called when you’re making a tackle, that’s pretty darn good.

Shields in his fourth season doesn’t get beat as much as he used to when receivers break off routes, and when he does, he still has the speed to close quickly. You compare that Micah Hyde, the fifth-round draft pick who’s having a strong training camp. Hyde doesn’t have that extra gear to close fast when a receiver breaks.

Earlier in his career, Shields got beat a lot on double moves and peaking into the backfield. He often got back in the play because of his speed and jumping ability, but now with some seasoning he’s not making those mistakes. He’s using his hands better, getting nice leverage. He’s having a really nice camp.

When Hayward and Williams come back, Shields will complement them well. Going into camp, Hayward was in the running to start on the outside, maybe even the favorite. But now I could see Shields starting there, and Hayward coming in as the slot cornerback in the nickel.

Shields also is showing up as tackler. The Packers list him at 184 pounds, but I’d guess he’s 175 soaking wet. He doesn’t take on guys high tackling. He’s a smart guy, goes low. His most impressive tackle Saturday night at St. Louis came on the Rams’ first possession. It was first and 10 at the Packers’ 43, and Rams halfback Isaiah Pead ran right. Shields filled and tackled him for a two-yard gain. Shields was 10 yards away on the handoff and made the play.

Looking at Lacy

What’s different about rookie halfback Eddie Lacy from the backs the Packers have had going back to Ahman Green is he runs behind his pads really well. That’s football speak for having a low center of gravity.

Compare that to the Packers’ James Starks, who runs kind of upright. Lacy runs behind his pads, which makes him stronger.

That showed up against the Rams on Lacy’s eight carries for 40 yards. The first tackler is the running back’s responsibility, he has to make the guy miss. Lacy, who is 230 pounds, doesn’t make the tackler miss because of his wiggle, he just runs through him.

Take Lacy’s first carry, which was a seven-yard gain on the game’s second play. The play wasn’t blocked particularly well — guard Josh Sitton tried to cut block defensive tackle Michael Brockers but missed. Brockers is a big guy (6-5, 326), but Lacy bounced off him at the line of scrimmage and gained seven yards. That’s the difference between an average running back and a good one. It was a seven-yard gain where a lot of running backs would have gained zero or two.

On the same series, second-and-three from St. Louis’ 15, there’s a seam on the right, and if Lacy can get there it’s a gain of 10 yards, maybe even a touchdown. But Sitton is driven back, and Lacy has to cut left. He has a linebacker in his mouth, a defensive end screaming down at him and he still gets two yards.

Ahman Green used to be that guy who almost never had a negative carry because he ran behind his pads and with a low center of gravity. Those guys keeps drives alive, because it’s third and 1 rather than third and 3. It opens up the playbook.

On that same drive Lacy had a 15-yard run where he kept his feet moving. Right tackle Don Barclay had a nice seal, but Lacy picked up another five, six, seven yards because he kept his feet moving. I think Lacy is the real deal. If he gets some help from that offensive line he could have a good year.

Lacy’s one negative run was on the Packers’ second series, a third-and-one from the Rams’ 29. The problem on that play, center Evan Dietrich-Smith and guard T.J. Lang were driven two yards deep. The line of scrimmage was the 29, they were at the 31. Those guys stood straight up and were driven back.

Extra points

• The rookie Hyde looks like a good player and has a nose for the ball, but outside cornerback doesn’t look like his spot. He’s a slot cornerback.

The marginal speed that concerned scouts about Hyde going into this year’s NFL draft showed up Saturday night. The most obvious play was that 57-yard pass receiver Chris Givens caught behind Hyde down the middle. Safety Jerron McMillian should have been back there for help, so yeah, McMillian messed up. But Givens still ran by Hyde.

The play that stood out more to me was first-and-goal from the three where Hyde ended up on his face, and if Rams quarterback Sam Bradford put the ball on the money receiver Tavon Austin had an easy touchdown. Hyde’s on the ground, he ran out of his shoes, so to speak.

Hyde had a sack and some pressures on the quarterback, and those came when he was playing the slot like Charles Woodson used to. Hyde’s spot will be in the slot in the nickel or the dime, playing over the tight end where he can blitz and not have to run deep. Nice player, heady guy, Big Ten guy, they’re usually tough.

• In his first game splitting time at outside linebacker and defensive line, Mike Neal looked a defensive lineman trying to play outside linebacker. He doesn’t have the quickness in space. He’ll have to be a spot player on the outside, maybe when they play that Bat personnel with only one defensive lineman and everyone else is standing up. He’ll be a liability if he has to chase anyone in coverage, he doesn’t have the hips to turn fast enough and the experience of playing in space.

• I’m still not sure whether the Packers should start Marshall Newhouse or Don Barclay at right tackle. This week’s game against Seattle could determine that. The starters probably will play into the third quarter, and Seattle has a good defense, so it will be a great test.

Barclay is good in the running game, hands down better than Newhouse there. But Newhouse’s feet are better in pass blocking. Barclay plays with hands well and is doing OK in pass protection, but I wonder if the coaches will go with Newhouse because he’s played more in games.

— Former football coach and player Eric Baranczyk offers his analysis of Green Bay Packers games each week.

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