Packers zeroing in on nickel and dime personnel
Dating back to the first practice of the offseason, the Green Bay Packers have used an uncommon approach to manning their No. 1 nickel and dime defenses.
In its simplest form, it comes down to this: In the No. 1 nickel, Casey Hayward comes in as the first defensive back off the bench, but in the dime he leaves the field, and Davon House and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix come off the bench.
However, that will change after this week's preseason game at St. Louis. Joe Whitt, the Packers' cornerbacks coach, said that starting next week he'll have a set pecking order, and unless there's a specific matchup for an opponent, the first defensive back off the bench will stay on the field in the dime also.
The Packers have been practicing this way for this long for two reasons: One, to get a better evaluation of cornerback Davon House, and two, to ensure the backups are well prepared if the secondary is hit by injuries in the regular season.
"I want to see House against high-level receivers," Whitt said. "I want to see Casey. This is a way I can see everybody. When we get to the games we're going to make a decision, 'This is the top guy, this is the second guy, this is the third guy, and this is how it's going to be.'"
Hayward remains the front-runner for the No. 3 cornerback – he had six interceptions as a rookie playing primarily in that role but then missed 13 games last season because of a hamstring injury. Micah Hyde is the front-runner to be the slot cover man in the dime. But at least for now he's a starting safety, so if he wins the dime job, then Clinton-Dix will replace him at safety in the dime, as he's been doing all camp.
Still, the fourth-year pro House could win a job in the nickel or dime. He doesn't play slot cornerback, so if he's in the nickel or dime, then starter Tramon Williams would move to the slot, and House would replace him outside.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers also could change his personnel week to week during the regular season, depending on the match-ups. For instance, House is the Packers' biggest cornerback, so Capers might prefer him on the field against a team with a tall receiver or two.
But for the most part, Capers and Whitt have been using the offseason and first three weeks of camp to ensure they've evaluated their defensive backs fully and that the backups are as prepared as possible when injuries hit the secondary in the regular season.
"I'm going to allow those four guys to decide by their play who's going to be the ones out there," Whitt said of Hayward, House, Hyde and Clinton-Dix. "I told them, if I have to make the decision I'm going to go with the guys I have a history with, so they better do what they have to do to change it."