Sam Shields’ absence three weeks ago in Arizona wasn’t as problematic as a leaky offensive line, but it hurt.
The Green Bay Packers top cornerback is a legitimate No. 1 cover man. Without him on the field, no part of the Packers secondary is unaffected.
Shields hasn’t played since his concussion Dec. 13 against the Dallas Cowboys. His absence has forced rookies Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins to cover the perimeter in the Packers nickel package, the defensive formation they use most. One of those games was at the Cardinals.
The Packers couldn’t find an answer for receiver Michael Floyd, who caught six passes for 111 yards. Floyd caught passes against four Packers defensive backs, including three receptions (on three targets) for 40 yards against Randall.
If Shields were healthy, the Packers could have used their top cornerback against the Cardinals’ hot receiver. Chances are the results would have been better. Without Shields, the Packers didn’t have an answer.
“We’ve been missing Sam,” outside linebacker Mike Neal said. “I think just from an experience standpoint. Sam’s a guy you can’t just run downfield on. I think that’s one of the biggest things with him. You can’t complete a deep ball on him. He has the experience. He’s big for us. So we have to be able to have him out there.”
Shields returned to practice Wednesday for the first time in two weeks. He still hasn’t passed concussion protocol, but he took reps in a light jog-through.
It was an encouraging sign for Shields to return to practice. He practiced before the Packers’ regular-season finale against the Minnesota Vikings, but there was a setback that prevented him from practicing last week.
The Packers were without two players at Wednesday’s practice. Receiver Davante Adams (knee) and Rollins (quadriceps) were unable to participate. Both rode stationary bikes during the periods open to media.
Rollins’ potential absence this week would only make it more important for the Packers to have Shields in Arizona. While he still must pass protocol, it appears Shields is taking steps in the right direction.
“Sam had a really good workout (Tuesday),” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday morning. “Going to do some on-field work today, but he's still not totally through the protocol. Getting close.”