The following is the seventh and final installment in a series of stories that has examined the Packers’ roster position by position. The series concludes with the defensive backs.
GREEN BAY—For all the discussion of the Packers’ depth at wide receiver, it’s the cornerbacks soon to be covering those receivers in training camp who compose what might be the roster’s deepest position.
Any of five experienced corners could be on the field at any time for the Packers defense in 2014, and that doesn’t even count the most veteran player in the group, a draft pick, and two practice-squad holdovers.
The Packers will want to see their top three of Tramon Williams, Sam Shields and Casey Hayward on the field as much as possible, which didn’t happen often enough last season. Hayward was nagged by a recurring hamstring injury and eventually landed on injured reserve, while Shields missed two midseason games with his own hamstring problem and then left the playoff game with a knee/ankle injury.
In the meantime, Williams returned to his peak form in the second half of last season, reminding observers of his play in the 2010 playoffs, when he was one of the team’s defensive heroes. With Shields re-signed to a big contact just before the start of free agency and Hayward healthy again, the Packers could have as strong a lead trio as they had back in 2008-09, when Williams was the nickel alongside starters Charles Woodson and Al Harris.
Right behind the big three are Micah Hyde and Davon House, who are young and developing but with plenty of experience to draw upon. Hyde manned the slot in the nickel and dime as a rookie fifth-round pick but worked at safety during the offseason, so his exact role for this season hasn’t been revealed. House, a fourth-round pick in 2011, is strictly an outside corner and hopes to have shaken the injury bug that slowed him down his first two seasons. He stepped in for Shields in the playoffs last January and might have played his best game as a pro.
The elder statesman of the bunch is Jarrett Bush, who has made a career of being ready to fill in on defense while remaining a special-teams leader. He made two game-saving plays, one a pass break-up against future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez and the other an interception, down the stretch in the one-point victory over Atlanta last December.
Added to the mix this season is sixth-round draft pick Demetri Goodson from Baylor, a converted Gonzaga basketball point guard loaded with raw athletic ability, while Jumal Rolle and Antonio Dennard return after spending portions of last season on the practice squad. As undrafted players, Rolle, Dennard and rookie Ryan White (Auburn) will look to follow the same under-the-radar path that began the productive careers of Williams, Shields and Bush.
Safety was the position that garnered the most attention from fans and analysts in the offseason, as the Packers struggled to find an adequate partner for starter Morgan Burnett in 2013. The entire position group failed to record a single interception last season, so all the blame can’t fall on the departed M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian, but more consistent, reliable play alongside Burnett should help him live up to the multi-year extension he signed before last season.
Hyde took the snaps with the No. 1 defense in offseason workouts, while first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, drafted 21st overall in May, is sure to push for the starting job in camp. Clinton-Dix played both deep centerfield and in the box during his college career for Nick Saban’s Alabama defense, while the Packers coaching staff has publicly discussed making Hyde an every-down player. Stay tuned there.
Also at safety, third-year pro Sean Richardson is another year removed from neck fusion surgery, which kept him sidelined until Week 12 last season. Known for his strong run support, Richardson can make a bid for more playing time with improved coverage skills.
The undersized Chris Banjo (5-10) returns as well after making the team as a surprise undrafted rookie a year ago, when he became a regular on special teams. Aside from Clinton-Dix, the other newcomers to the group are undrafted rookies Charles Clay (Hawaii) and Tanner Miller, a former teammate of Hyde’s at Iowa. Previously in Countdown to Camp: