Sam Shields has been impressing people – me included – from the very first practice of training camp. In fact, the rookie from Miami showed so much potential that he all but locked up a roster spot weeks ago. Now he’s on the verge of winning the No. 3 cornerback job. The first accomplishment is surprising; the second is shocking. And kinda scary, if you’re a fan of the Packers. As talented as Shields is, the idea that a legitimate Super Bowl contender would be willing to begin the regular season with an undrafted free agent in such an important role is hard to believe. Unfortunately, as of today, defensive coordinator Dom Capers really has no better option. Pat Lee and Brandon Underwood were expected to compete for the nickel job, but neither player stepped up during the summer. In fact, both youngsters regressed when the pads went on.
We have no problem with the decision to place Shields ahead of Lee and Underwood on the depth chart. He’s earned it. But we don’t want to see the rookie playing 50 to 60 percent of the snaps when the season opens in Philadelphia next Sunday. Give Eagles coach Andy Reid even more time than usual to prepare and he’s as good as anyone at taking advantage of mismatches. And no matter how much you admire Shields’ talent and salivate at his long-term potential, you can’t like his chances when pitted against DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin. And make no mistake about it, Reid will make sure to get his talented young wide receivers matched up with Shields as often as possible.
With Al Harris now officially out for at least the first six games of the season, it’s imperative for general manager Ted Thompson to acquire an experienced corner before the end of the weekend. Who’s out there? Well, it’s a safe bet that the Broncos aren’t going to be dangling Champ Bailey any time soon, but there’ll be some useful veterans available between now and Saturday evening – either via trade, the waiver wire or free agency. Thompson doesn’t like to add other team’s veterans at this time of the year, but he’s done it before. In September of 2005, he traded for outside linebacker Robert Thomas. The former Ram went on to start nine games for Green Bay that season, and while he wasn’t much more than adequate, that was good enough back then and it would be good enough now.
Is it impossible for Shields to hold up as the starting nickel back? Nothing’s impossible, but the odds are stacked against him. It also doesn’t help his cause to have a suspect pass rush in front of him and another rookie lined up behind him. Is it fair to blame Thompson for the current situation? Sure it is. He chose not to sign a corner in free agency or draft one in April. He believed strongly in two of his former draft choices and neither one rewarded his faith. But it’s not time to point fingers. It’s time for Thompson to earn his salary by fixing what has a chance to be a very big mess. He needs to bring in the best veteran he can find and then see how things play out. If Shields defies the odds and proves to be the best man for the job, so be it. But if he’s not ready, it’s imperative to have somebody around who is.