Packer Update

Not ready for prime time player

Talented rookie cornerback has a very bright future, but the future isn't this season

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.

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7 Comments to "Not ready for prime time player"

  1. DaveK says:

    Spot on.

    No idea who will be available but CB depth is a glaring hole in the roster now that Harris is on the pup, Underwood is hurt, and Lee has not stepped up. AZ provided the blue-print. Teams are going to spread us out until we prove we can get after the QB and/or cover their 3rd and 4th WR’s.

  2. Grave Digger says:

    Who are these veteran players people keep saying Thompson needs to sign? Where are the Bruce Wilkersons who still have some gas in the tank and will come cheap? The answer is they don’t exist anymore. Yeah Ron Wolf filled in gaps with Bruce Wilkersons and Andre Risons in 1996, but those kind of players aren’t out there. And if they are out, especially in an uncapped season, it’s because they’re either asking exorbitant amounts of money that are completely unreasonable or simply don’t have it anymore.

    So who are these players that were/are out there that we wouldn’t have had to overpay for? Maybe we’ll see how much Ty Law has left in the tank? Maybe we can coax Samari Rolle out of retirement?

    • Michael Rodney says:

      You probably used that same argument a year ago when the Packers opened the season with no legitimate backup LT and a completely unproven RT. The Packers are just as vulnerable this season at OLB and CB. Yes, it’s more difficult to find decent veterans today than it was 15 years ago, but it can be done. A GM just has to be willing to do it.

  3. nerdmann says:

    Move Burnett to nickel and Peprah to safety. I could see TT pulling off a Ryan Grant type last minute trade. But it would be at either OLB or CB. What’s all available out there? Any teams with extra OLB/CBs need a passcatching TE like Lee or a FB like Johnson?

  4. DaveK says:

    Vikings combing the waiver wire for a decent CB also:

    Probably have to trade for one if you want a true nickel CB better then Lee or Underwood at this point. (see Ravens/Seattle trade yesterday)

  5. Grave Digger says:

    I understand what you’re saying Michael and yes there are players out there, but not ones that worth their exorbitant contract demands. Why would another team cut or trade a solid nickel CB when there’s a significant chance they’ll play a team loaded at WR? Why would a team sacrifice CB depth when they could possibly face New England or Indianapolis or Green Bay or New Orleans etc. Which team in the league has an incredible surplus of good CBs that they’re going to be forced to trade or cut a couple? The answer is none. I know people would love us to sign a guy they’ve heard of, but the reality is those name players are on the street for a reason. There are plenty of teams that are in dire need of a CB, heck every team in our division needs at least 1 more, so saying “it can be done” isn’t realistic in my opinion. Yes Ted Thompson is very conservative with the team’s money (I think responsible is a more appropriate word), but for every Ted Thompson there are 5 GMs who aren’t conservative that will sign those quality CBs or OLBs you think are waiting in the wings to whatever they want just to improve their depth.

    I’m not trying to be rude Michael, I very much enjoy your site and I do agree we need depth at CB and OLB, but there’s no one out there left to sign. Teams can afford to overpay this season so unless the player’s contract vs. production is incredibly unbalanced, they’re going to hold on to them.

  6. Scott Jacobs says:

    The defense has issues at every level — S, CB, OLB, DE — and with an injury even ILB or NT could become vulnerable. Fortunately, the offense is stacked at WR, TE, OL, QB, and FB (HB is just okay). The major questions are 1) where should Thompson be willing to risk depleting depth at one of these positions to strengthen the defense with players who were not around for training camp, and 2) can Thompson find any teams willing to make a fair trade? Trades do happen, but I wouldn’t count on any free agents or the waiver wire to plug the leaks.

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