Packers' secondary expecting Jennings' best
The first month of the NFL season has seen the Green Bay Packers' secondary tested by the likes of Percy Harvin, Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.
So far, the quartet of Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Davon House and Casey Hayward has lived to tell the tale. Even when the Chicago Bears nearly put up 500 yards on the Packers' defense on Sunday, only 58 of those yards came through Marshall and Jeffery's hands.
As the Packers' run defense looks settle down, the secondary hopes to stay the course this Thursday against the Minnesota Vikings and another serious receiving threat in former Packers receiver Greg Jennings.
Jennings, 31, was humbled in his first season without Aaron Rodgers throwing passes to him, but he's off to a better start in his second season in the Twin Cities with 15 catches for 204 yards and a touchdown.
"Greg is back," Packers cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. "I don't know if he was hurt or what have you last year, but he looks like the old Greg Jennings. He's fast, he's quick, he's elusive, he's really creative in his route-running. He's run to watch run routes. The quarterback can get him the ball. So we really have a challenge."
The Packers say they're preparing for Teddy Bridgewater to start, but the rookie quarterback didn't practice on Tuesday because of a sprained ankle. If he can't play, Christian Ponder would start in his place. He's 1-4-1 lifetime against Green Bay with a 76.6 quarterback rating.
Alongside Jennings, the Vikings have a pair of blossoming vertical threats in Cordarrelle Patterson and Jarius Wright, who had eight catches and 132 yards in Sunday's 41-28 win over Atlanta.
Williams and Shields were critical against the Bears in not only shutting down Marshall and Jeffery, but also in helping turn the momentum in a 38-17 win. Shields had a 52-yard interception return, while the crafty Williams tipped up a pick for outside linebacker Clay Matthews.
Both incidents were products of film study of quarterback Jay Cutler and the rest of the Bears' offense, according to Whitt.
House (33 snaps) and Hayward (26) split reps pretty evenly as the nickel cornerback. The plan coming into the game was for each cornerback to play about 30 snaps with veteran Jarrett Bush seeing another 10.
House slipped on Marshall's first-quarter touchdown, but Whitt attributed it more to Soldier Field's shaky footing than anything else. The fourth-year cornerback has eight tackles, three pass deflections and an interception since seeing a single defensive snap in the Packers' regular-season opener against Seattle.
"It's a horrible field. Horrible," said Whitt of Soldier Field's turf. "If we had it all do it over again with that field, we probably would have come up and pressed them instead of trying to cut the goal line off of him and play from there."
Arguably the deepest position on the roster, Whitt said nothing is out of the realm of possibility when it comes to cornerback combination. As the season wears on, the Packers hope the interchangeability of the unit could be an advantage to keep offenses on their toes.
Right now, the league's 14th-ranked unit is focused on the task at hand. A year ago, the Packers held Jennings to three catches for 38 yards in their two regular-season victories. The Packers hope that trend continues this week.
"He's faster than you think and he looks like the Greg Jennings of three years ago right now from what I see on film," Whitt said. "I'm really impressed with how he's playing."