Because young players often fill out the lower portions of an NFL roster, often their best chance to make an early impact in the NFL is on special teams. With that in mind, the Packers paid particular attention to special teams as they conducted their rookie orientation this past weekend.
*Drills: *There was an emphasis on special teams drill work. That was done not only to give the coaches ample film with which to evaluate the rookies' special teams skills, but also to introduce some new drills that special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum and assistant Chad Morton are planning to run with the full squad during organized team activities (OTAs), which begin in two weeks.
"Special teams is an emphasis for us," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "We need to improve in that area, so we actually looked at a couple drills with the rookies that we're going to do with our whole football team. So it was an opportunity for the coaches to get out there and go through the drills live and make sure the drills are ready to apply to our team when they get here in the OTAs."
*A speedster: *For all the questions as to whether the Packers would add another return man in the draft, they may have found a candidate in the post-draft pool.
Cornerback Sam Shields of Miami, a converted wide receiver, was signed as a non-drafted free agent last week, and his speed stood out on the practice field over the weekend. He took some reps at both punt and kickoff returner, and he's also a potential gunner on the punt team.
Shields said he once ran the 40-yard dash in a blazing 4.19 seconds. He wasn't a primary return man at Miami - though he did take a handoff on a reverse and go the distance on the opening kickoff against Wisconsin in Miami's bowl game last winter, only to have an illegal block inside the Wisconsin 10-yard line nullify the touchdown - but he handled the job full-time in high school and as a former receiver has little trouble catching the ball.
"I'm confident," Shields said. "I'm doing it the right way, getting a lot of repetitions, and it's helping me out a lot."
Shields perhaps has the furthest to go as a cornerback, having just switched from receiver his final season at Miami. He said one day during spring practices all the receivers and cornerbacks switched spots, and the Miami coaching staff was so intrigued by what they saw of Shields on the other side of the ball that they asked him to switch permanently.
The 5-foot-11, 184-pounder wondered if the request wasn't a joke at first, but he took to the new position fine. If he can prove capable as a backup cornerback, his special teams potential should help him compete for a roster spot in training camp.
*The punting competition: *What could be shaping up as a summer-long battle between free agent Tim Masthay and Australian Chris Bryan for the punting job began this past weekend, and both players received favorable early reviews.
Both punters are known for kicking the ball high, and they hit the Hutson Center ceiling plenty during the workouts. McCarthy said Sunday's punting focused on getting punts inside the 20 or 10, and both performed well. He noted that Bryan, who uses an "end-under-end" pooch punt similar to a maneuver in the Australian game, had a particularly good day.
Odds & Ends
McCarthy said there could be one or two contracts offered to the roughly two dozen tryout players who participated in the rookie camp ... After a rough practice on Friday, McCarthy said he felt the Saturday and Sunday workouts were very good. One player in particular he noted who bounced back from a rough opening day was tight end Andrew Quarless, a fifth-round draft pick out of Penn State, who flashed some both on offense and on special teams. "His athletic ability with his body type is something that we really value, particularly the tight end position," McCarthy said. "The ability to run down the middle of the field and make the adjustments, ... I thought he did a nice job." ... The rookies will return in two weeks for the start of OTAs, and the entire team will go through medical physicals before the on-field work starts. The Packers have several players coming back from significant injuries, including cornerbacks Al Harris, Will Blackmon and Pat Lee, tight end Spencer Havner, receiver Brett Swain and offensive lineman Jason Spitz. McCarthy didn't say whether he expected any of those players to pass their physicals, but he indicated the team would be very cautious with injured players and perhaps hold many of them out of OTAs, as is customary.