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Secondary competing for primary roles

Posted Jul 28, 2012

Less than a week into camp, the competition is definitely on at defensive back.

Just seeing the way the coaches are rolling all the cornerbacks and safeties through the different defensive packages, and seeing some of the plays on the ball being made in the first three days, it appears the Packers’ deep stable of young defensive backs will not settle things early.

“It’s definitely competitive, and in a good way,” said cornerback Tramon Williams, whose starting spot is secure but who knows a little something about battling up from the bottom of the depth chart as an undrafted player. “It brings out the best in guys, when you have that type of depth to compete.”

There’s also plenty to compete for. With Charles Woodson moving to safety in the base defense, there’s a cornerback spot open in base and a safety spot open in the nickel. Throw in the dime, where the sixth defensive back could be either a corner or safety, and there are multiple ways to earn roles and playing time.

Veteran corner Jarrett Bush and second-year safety M.D. Jennings have begun camp with the first units for those base and nickel spots, but on Friday, cornerback Sam Shields rotated in for a few of Bush’s snaps in base and safety Anthony Levine did the same for some of Jennings’ reps.

Then on Saturday, with the defense employing a fair amount of dime, the rotations and substitutions continued rather liberally. Cornerbacks Davon House and Casey Hayward, plus safety Jerron McMillian, among others, were all getting reps either with the first-team defense or against the first-team offense, or both.

“That’s the nature of our business,” said Bush, who sees the opportunity he has but knows that beginning camp as a starter doesn’t mean he’ll finish it there. “I’m always up for a challenge, and being in my seventh year, it’s nothing new to me.

“There’s always competition. You can never be comfortable.”

Especially when so many different guys are making plays in the team (11-on-11) drills and getting noticed this early in camp. Consider:

  • In Thursday’s opening practice, Bush was the standout with two pass break-ups, one against tight end Jermichael Finley and another in seven-on-seven.

  • Levine broke up a pass and nearly had a pick-six on Friday when he jumped a short route to tight end Eric Lair.

  • Also on Friday, Jennings hauled in an interception on a pass deflected by Greg Jennings and Williams.

  • Each of the last two days, Hayward has intercepted quarterback Graham Harrell in team work, and on Saturday he added pass break-ups against receivers Diondre Borel and Jordy Nelson during a one-on-one WR/DB drill.

  • House, who shined during spring workouts, had been waiting for his “splash” play and got it on Saturday when he stripped James Jones and recovered the fumble after a reception. Earlier, House picked off a Harrell pass intended for Randall Cobb in the one-on-ones when Cobb slipped on an out cut. After practice, House said he’s out to show “just that I ain’t no pushover” after his rookie training camp was cut short by a hamstring injury last year.

  • McMillian had also been a little under the radar until Saturday, when he broke up a pass for Lair on a QB rollout. McMillian plays near the line of scrimmage a lot and is often around the ball on running plays.

“When it comes to competition, really if you think about it, you’re not competing against the other guy,” Williams said. “When you get your reps, if you make them count, then it’s fine. But if you get your reps and you don’t make them count, that’s on you, so you’re really competing against yourself.”

Shields has probably been the quietest so far, and he gave up more completions than he would have liked on Saturday, but he’s not going to fret. Aside from Bush, Shields has more game experience than any of the competing defensive backs. He said earlier in the week that he’s focusing on being assignment-sure, and he sounded confident his big plays were on their way.

“It’s not making many mistakes,” Shields said of his biggest emphasis. “Everything is not going to be right, you’re going to mess up. But my biggest part is just working on being more aggressive. Like everybody says, I have to work on tackling, but it’s going to come.

“We’ve got along ways to go. There’s plenty of time.”

That’s the truth. This competition is just getting started.

“I feel practice is all good, but when the preseason games come around, that’s when it’s really going to count,” House said. “Be physical, make tackles, make plays.”

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