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Game Notes: Up-And-Down Night For Young Corners

Posted Aug 14, 2010

With veteran cornerback Al Harris still working his way back from a knee injury, there have been more opportunities for some young cornerbacks on Green Bay’s roster to make their mark early in the preseason.

Two of those corners, second-year man Brandon Underwood and rookie Sam Shields, showed some flashes of what they can bring to the secondary if called upon, while also having some struggles.

Lining up as the nickel back with the No. 1 defense, Underwood got plenty of work on the opening series of the game. Veteran quarterback Jake Delhomme connected with second-year wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi three times for 36 yards with Underwood covering him, including a 12-yard slant down to the Packers’ 14 on fourth-and 1. The completion helped set up running back Jerome Harrison’s 4-yard touchdown run three plays later.

“In the back of your mind you are thinking about the things you could have done a little bit better before you get a chance to make a play,” Underwood said. “It’s just paying attention to details. We’re going to get in Monday and watch the film and see what we need to do better.”

Underwood got that chance to make a play later in the first half. With the Browns at Green Bay’s 17 with just under 40 seconds remaining in the half, Underwood posted his first interception as a Packer when he picked off rookie quarterback Colt McCoy’s underthrown pass for wide receiver Johnathan Haggerty four yards deep in the end zone. Underwood returned the interception 35 yards out to the Packers’ 31.

“We pretty much had the guy doubled and Derrick (Martin) did a great job,” Underwood said. “With the release of the receiver, I was able to get my eyes back to see what the quarterback was seeing. We pretty much talked right before the play because we both had thought that he was going to come to that guy over there.

“I think he thought it was just me over there, so when he threw it Derrick had over the top covered and that just gave me a great opportunity to be able to play underneath him and make the play.”

Underwood’s interception thwarted the Browns’ scoring opportunity, but it was a miscue by the rookie Shields that put them in position in the first place. With just over two minutes remaining in the half, Shields ran up to field a short Reggie Hodges punt at the Green Bay 31, but muffed the catch and the Browns recovered at the Packers’ 30.

“It was just a lack of focus,” said Shields, who added that he didn’t get bumped by anyone as he tried to field the punt. “Just keeping my eyes on the ball, like I keep working on in practice. I guess I was worrying about what was around me instead of just worrying about catching the ball.

“I’ve just got to keep working at it. This is my first time doing it this year. I’m not putting that for an excuse, but I’ve just got to keep working on it each and every day. It will get better.”

Shields, a non-drafted free agent out of the University of Miami, spent the first three years at wide receiver with the Hurricanes before making the transition to cornerback as a senior. He had very limited experience as a kick returner in college, and although he has had his struggles hanging on to the ball during offseason practices, has made some progress in that area during training camp. Shields showed his speed in the open field during the Family Night Scrimmage on a 99-yard interception return for a touchdown.

Shields came close to redeeming himself with an interception of his own late in the game as the Packers looked to protect a 24-21 lead. On first down at the Green Bay 41, Shields made a nice break to get his hands on a pass from quarterback Brett Ratliff to wide receiver Syndric Steptoe in the flat, but the deflected ball sailed out of Shields’ reach.

“I made some plays and I missed some plays,” Shields said. “On Monday I just have to come in and correct myself on some of those mistakes, and keep going forward.”

“(The transition to cornerback) is getting better and better each day. There are still corrections I have to make. Every day I have to get better.”

Back and forth
Ever since rookie Bryan Bulaga entered the competition at left guard earlier this week, he and veteran Daryn Colledge have split reps with the first group fairly evenly, and that continued on Saturday night.

Colledge got the start with Bulaga taking the second series, and Colledge joked that the rotation didn’t work out as well for him since the Packers’ first drive consisted of just one play, a fumble from running back Ryan Grant.

“Obviously I would have liked for my first drive to last longer than one play, but that’s just the way it goes,” he said. “I knew I had the first series and he knew he had the second. Whether that was one play or 20 plays, that was how it was going to be. It was fine. It’s not what you hope for, but that’s because you want the offense to be successful, not because it’s just one play.”

Bulaga took over at left guard on the second series, an eight-play, 84-yard drive that was capped off with a 25-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Aaron Rodgers to wide receiver Greg Jennings. In addition to rotating with Colledge, Bulaga also took some snaps later in the game at his more familiar position of left tackle.

“It’s going to take a little while to get comfortable at guard,” Bulaga said. “I just moved there Monday. It’s going to take more snaps, more reps to really get feeling good there. That was game action out there at guard. You’ve got to get adjusted to those types of things, but I thought overall I did some good things. I made some mistakes, so I’ve got to look at the tape tomorrow and correct it and work at it.

“It was good to get those reps. Those are valuable reps, and it was good to go against a good team in that kind of atmosphere.”

When Colledge went back in for the third series, he also got to be a part of a scoring drive as the offense moved the ball 72 yards in less than three minutes for a 2-yard touchdown run from fullback John Kuhn.

“Me and Bryan have a great relationship off the field,” Colledge said. “When we go out there, we compete. He is trying to get a job done and so am I. But I am competing with myself right now. I’ve got a lot of starts.

“Right now I need to find a way to get better for me every single week, and that’s what I plan on doing. I felt good about tonight. I did good things with what I got. I’ve got a few things that need to be corrected, but I feel like I played strong tonight.”

Equal night
With a competitive battle for the punting job between Chris Bryan and Tim Masthay, the Packers were hoping to get each of them some opportunities in the preseason opener, and they were able to accomplish that goal.

Last year’s preseason opener against Cleveland saw the Packers punt just once, but each punter was able to get three chances on Saturday night. Both Bryan and Masthay posted a 47.3-yard average on their three kicks, with Masthay handling the holding duties for kicker Mason Crosby’s field goal and three extra points.

Bryan got off to a strong start, booting a 57-yarder midway through the second quarter down to Cleveland’s 11, but Steptoe recorded an 18-yard return on the kick. Masthay posted a 56-yard kick on his first opportunity on the Packers’ next series that went for a touchback.

Bryan’s next chance came in the third quarter when he connected on a 43-yarder with good hang time that forced Steptoe to call for a fair catch. Early in the fourth quarter, Masthay booted a 42-yarder that wide receiver Charles Dillon was able to deflect to cornerback D.J. Clark, who downed the ball at the Browns’ 5.

Both punters didn’t finish the night as well as they would have liked, each posting low kicks that gave the Browns good field position, Bryan’s a 42-yarder and Masthay’s a 44-yard boot.

I thought they started out very well,” McCarthy said. “I think both Chris and Tim, we needed some big punts there in the fourth quarter to change the field position and we did not get that part done, so that was a negative.

“But I can promise you that it’s a competition that’s being closely evaluated. Now that we have live tape to evaluate both and the opportunity to look in their eyes during the course of the game so we’ll have more information as we go forward. It’s going to take four games to evaluate the punting situation, I’m sure.” 

Injury/participation update
Grant left the game after his third carry of the evening when he took a blow to the head, and did not return.

“Pepper (Burruss) and the medical staff felt that he cleared quickly,” McCarthy said. “But we’ll take a close look at him tomorrow and Monday and make sure he is OK.”

Tight end Tom Crabtree left the game late in the first half after injuring his hand blocking on a punt return, and also did not return. He went to the locker room for X-rays on the hand, but McCarthy said the results were not definitive and it would require another scan on Sunday.

Crabtree said the hand has been a lingering issue since early on in camp, and he has been wearing protective padding to protect the injury.

“Tonight I went a little lighter on the padding,” Crabtree said. “A game situation I wanted to make sure that it wouldn’t hinder me catching the ball. I am trying to find that balance where I don’t have so much padding that I can’t catch, but at the same time if it is not padded, it’s going to hurt when I am blocking.

“If I need to put a cast on it, whatever I’ve got to do to be out there, I’m going to be out there. As far as I am concerned, I want to be out there Monday when practice rolls around.”

Safeties Atari Bigby (ankle) and Will Blackmon (knee), cornerback Al Harris (knee), running back James Starks (hamstring), linebackers Alex Joseph (quad), Clay Matthews (hamstring) and Cyril Obiozor (calf), and guard/center Jason Spitz (calf) did not dress for Saturday night’s game.

Aug. 14 - Additional Packers-Browns game coverage
 
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