The Green Bay Packers aren’t sure whether they’ll have Sam Shields available this Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, but they’re certainty well-prepared for the worst case scenario.
A week ago at this time, the fourth-year cornerback sat out of practice with a hamstring flare-up, but still was listed as probable. The only problem was his pre-game workout didn’t go well and he wound up being a late scratch in Sunday’s 27-13 loss to the New York Giants.
Shields missed all of three days of practice following what Packers coach Mike McCarthy called an “up-and-down” week of rehab. He’s listed as questionable to play Sunday against the Vikings.
The Packers actually had more cornerbacks (Shields, Casey Hayward, Micah Hyde and James Nixon) sit out of practice on Friday than actually participated (Tramon Williams, Davon House and Jarrett Bush), but Hyde is probable to play through a groin injury.
Shields is still the X-factor for the secondary. After a shaky start in the Packers’ first two games, he’s allowed only 15 catches on 31 targets for 175 yards with two touchdowns and an interception over his last seven games, according to Pro Football Focus.
“Sam is very important to this defense. Him and Clay are probably the two standouts right now, but we don’t have him,” Packers cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. “So I’m not going to be in a woe-is-me mentality right now. I’m going to be in, ‘OK Tramon, you just played your best game. House, can we get both of you all’s best game together. Jarrett, can we get your best game. Can we get six of them in a row and get to where we need to be?’ That’s my mentality right now.”
The Packers had some communication issues in the secondary against the Giants for which Whitt assumed blame for the mental errors, which included a 35-yard catch by Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks following a switch route where Williams and safety Morgan Burnett initially stayed with Victor Cruz underneath.
Whitt also took the high road despite finding out roughly 90 minutes before the game arguably his best cornerback would not be playing. It pushed House into the starting lineup and left Hyde in the slot in the nickel sub-package for the entire game instead of rotating with Williams like he has been at times.
Even if Hyde plays on Sunday, Shields’ absence would mean veteran Jarrett Bush continuing to fill in as the other slot cornerback in the dime sub-package and Williams staying on the perimeter.
The two-back formations the Vikings usually rely on likely means more 3-4 base defense and nickel looks, so the lack of depth might not be as worrisome as the typical week.
Still, Shields' absence would leave another void in a defense that will be without Hayward (hamstring), outside linebacker Nick Perry (foot/ankle) and likely defensive lineman Johnny Jolly (groin).
"It is what it is. I can’t worry about it. If he’s not available, he’s not available,” Whitt said. “I don’t put any extra or unneeded effort into Sam not being here. I need to worry about the guys that are available getting them prepared and getting them ready to go win a football game. I don’t put anything into not having Sam, not having Casey.”