Casey Hayward is finally ready to make his 2013 regular-season debut for the Green Bay Packers after a three-month hamstring injury.
Now it’s the Packers’ duty to determine where exactly the 2012 defensive rookie of the year candidate fits amongst a suddenly crowded collection of cornerbacks?
The Packers have seven cornerbacks on the roster at the moment with Sam Shields and Tramon Williams working as the base 3-4 defensive starters and Davon House, Micah Hyde, Jarrett Bush and safety Jerron McMillian also having rotated in the sub-package defenses.
House and Hyde have played well in stretches this season, often alternating in the nickel defense where Hayward once reigned a year ago during his six-interception rookie campaign.
“We’ll be anxious to see him get back in there,” Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “I don’t know how many plays. … He’s had a good week of practice. It’s been a long time since he’s been out there. It’ll be a gradual progression with Casey, but it’s nice to have him back because he brings ball skills and the ability to make plays.”
For the first time during Sunday’s 31-13 win over Cleveland, the Packers actually found a way to incorporate both young cornerbacks in their dime defense at the same time with House covering the perimeter and Williams and Hyde working together in the slot.
The production couldn’t have been much better, according to cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt, with Williams’ ability as a zone-drop defender playing a role in the defense’s three sacks.
The answer to what role Hayward assumes might not come this Sunday against Minnesota, whose two-back offense likely will result in more base defensive looks from the Packers.
“We’re starting to gel and play better,” Whitt said. “The thing is, this is going to be such an Okie (base 3-4) game. I foresee them coming out two-back running, they have a great fullback and the best tailback in the game. They run the play-action off that, so I don’t know how much sub we’ll actually be in. The sub game will be a question that really dictates off of what they do.”
It’s been a long wait for Hayward, who initially sustained the hamstring pull during offseason training before suffering an aggravation 10 plays into his first game back against Seattle in an Aug. 23 preseason game.
Hayward has spent the past two months rehabbing the injury, but could be expected to help lift a secondary that has only three interceptions in six games, tied for 25th in the league.
“Last time, I felt good coming back and I came back as soon as I felt good,” said Hayward, who had 53 tackles and 21 pass deflections as a rookie. “This time, I’ve been feeling good for a couple weeks. Hopefully this time, we hit it on the head and we don’t have any setbacks.”