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The Packers defense rests with Hayward

Posted Apr 27, 2012

It turns out the Packers weren’t done trading up in the second round after their opening selection on Friday.

General Manager Ted Thompson pulled the trade trigger again just a short while later, securing another pick at the bottom of the second round to take Vanderbilt cornerback Casey Hayward.

That made the Packers three-for-three on defense thus far in the draft, one for each of the defense’s three levels. After linebacker Nick Perry and lineman Jerel Worthy, Hayward now arrives to help fortify the secondary with what the Packers describe as an impressive combination of smarts and ball skills.

The Packers gave up their third-round pick, No. 90, and their fifth-rounder, No. 163, to the Patriots to move up 28 spots to No. 62 and nab Hayward. A three-year starter at Vandy, Hayward is seen as being able to handle the mental side of the pro game from the get-go.

“He’s extremely smart,” Packers cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr. said. “One thing I really liked about him when I talked to him at the combine, he understood what he was doing. He communicates at a high level on the field. He understands what the offense is trying to do to him at all times.”

That helps explain Hayward’s 13 interceptions over the last two seasons. A former quarterback, Hayward (5-11, 192) credited his days as an offensive player with improving his “instincts and vision.”

Those instincts also showed up in run support, as Hayward recorded 18 tackles in the backfield on running plays in his career, including 8½ as a first-time starter in 2009 and 7½ more last season. His college statistics list him with no sacks, so all those TFL’s came against the run.

“He’s a willing tackler,” Whitt said. “He will put his nose in there. He has a complete game. There were not many holes I really found when I was evaluating.”

Hayward called his tackling an underrated strength, but he credited most of his impact plays to film study, making him a more knowledgeable player on the field.

“I think I’m going to bring a lot of instincts and a lot of playmaking ability,” he said. “Green Bay has that with their team.”

Hayward joins a Packers cornerback group that mixes veterans Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and Jarrett Bush with young developing prospects such as Sam Shields and Davon House.

Thompson sounded confident Hayward would fit right in. In their effort to fix the league’s last-ranked defense, the Packers went about the early stages of this draft with the mindset that a better pass rush would help the pass coverage, but the selection of Hayward adds needed depth to the coverage, too.

“I think he’s an all-around player,” Thompson said. “He’s very aware in space. He sees the ball well. He can play with his back to the basket, so to speak, with his back to the line of scrimmage. He has good hands, a knack for interceptions.”

He’s got a knack for knowledge, too, and he’ll need it, according to Whitt.

“He’s a cerebral young man,” Whitt said. “I want to get him in that room and see him digest this playbook. We have a massive playbook.”

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