The competition in the Green Bay Packers’ cornerbacks room never has been tighter – even in the classroom.
With Casey Hayward’s return from a hamstring injury in Sunday’s 44-31 win over Minnesota, the Packers have five viable options at a position that runs at a maximum of four in Dom Capers’ traditional dime defense.
Veterans Tramon Williams and Sam Shields have played nearly every snap this season with third-year pro Davon House and rookie Micah Hyde helping carry the load in Hayward’s six-game absence.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy admitted during his Saturday news conference that the cornerbacks “are probably not the happiest bunch,” but competition is one of the reasons why the team feels its defense has improved this season.
Packers cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt agrees. That’s why he puts so much stock into how his players perform during their week of practice, right down to the paper-and-pen tests with No. 2 pencils included that his cornerbacks take every Friday before a Sunday game or Saturday before a Monday contest.
“I actually call it a pre-test because the real test is the game,” Whitt said. “I use it for a number of things. One, to make sure that I’ve done a good job of preparing them. If a number of guys miss the same thing, that means that I have done a poor job with that.
“If they’re the only one that misses (a question), I want to make sure that they can get it if they’re having problems. The tests do matter. If they don’t do well on that test and it’s close between two guys, the guy that does better will be the one that plays.”
The tests are performed in a three-page format. The first is usually eight questions on tendencies for a given week. The second page consists of 21 formations that require adjustments based on Whitt’s calls. The third is another eight questions on how the defense matches certain coverage combinations.
House estimates it takes him about 7-10 minutes to finish it. Tramon Williams usually takes a little more time, but “doesn’t ever miss anything," according to House.
Like on the football field, it gets competitive.
“If definitely is,” said Hyde, who had similar kinds of tests at the University of Iowa. “He tells us that also. We go in there, we try to get every question right, and if we get it wrong, we discuss it among each other. And if it’s something a lot of guys get wrong, we definitely go over it right away.”
The tests require the cornerbacks to think ahead and prepare for in-game situations as simple as a receiver motioning and should you follow? What do you do once you chose to?
At the suggestion of Shields, the cornerbacks switched things up this week. Instead of the traditional individual format, the cornerbacks worked together as a group with verbal responses to questions.
On Monday against the Bears, the Packers’ five cornerbacks will again be vying for playing time, but Whitt likes how his room is responding to the competition.
“They’re not all happy but there’s not going to always be happiness,” Whitt said. “It’s not about being happy. It’s about winning football games. … The thing that I like that I saw this week is instead of complaining and moaning, they’ve really been helping each other. They wanted to do more group study than individual study. … They thought that it helped us everybody together instead of individually instead of me just grading it. I thought that was the right approach from the individuals in the room. Hopefully, we go out and play well.”
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