1

November

Seven games into rookie season, Micah Hyde looks like he belongs

Packers rookie Micah Hyde, just 22 years old, has already proven to be a versatile defender and solid return man.

Packers rookie Micah Hyde, just 22 years old, has already proven to be a versatile defender and solid return man.

Prior to coming off the board in the fifth round of April’s NFL Draft, Packers rookie cornerback Micah Hyde had no idea where he’d be selected.

“I was hearing stuff from all different angles, but at the end of the day I really didn’t care,” Hyde said. “As long as I got the opportunity to get on a team somewhere, whether it was first round or free agent, I was going to try and make the best of it.”

On the final day of the draft, Hyde was on the golf course when he got the call from a Green Bay number. He said people looked confused when they saw a group of 20-something-year-old guys throwing balls into the pond and driving across the fairway in a spontaneous celebration.

But for Hyde, who grew up in Ohio and attended college at the University of Iowa, Green Bay seems to be the perfect fit.

“This is exactly where I want to be,” Hyde said. “I was fortunate to be picked by the Packers because this is the perfect place, and the draft, all that stuff is in the past.”

Hyde was pick No. 159 in April’s draft, but there certainly aren’t 158 rookies making a bigger impact than he has thus far.

Talking to second-round pick Eddie Lacy last week, it was clear that Wisconsin’s cool October weather was an adjustment for him, but while Hyde says he doesn’t “like to play in the cold,” he’s grown accustomed to it.

Last week, in the temperature-controlled confines of the Metrodome, Hyde scored his first touchdown on a 93-yard punt return just before halftime. After proving to be a valuable player in the secondary, capable of covering the slot and playing on the perimeter, Hyde stepped up and gave the Packers a splash play on special teams–an area in which such plays have been lacking so far this season.

“It was definitely exciting,” Hyde said. “Especially because it was at Minnesota and it kind of quieted the dome a little bit.”

On his way to the end zone, however, Hyde nearly had a fail of Danny Trevathan proportions. Less than ten yards shy of the goal line, Hyde slowed his stride and strutted as he approached the end zone. He stumbled and nearly faceplanted.

31

July

Wednesday 7/31 Packers practice: Davon House shines

Packers cornerback Davon House may have been the most impressive player at Wednesday's practice.

Packers cornerback Davon House may have been the most impressive player at Wednesday’s practice.

With fellow cornerbacks Casey Hayward and Tramon Williams on the sideline nursing injuries, Packers cornerback Davon House stepped up during Wednesday morning’s practice at Ray Nitschke Field.

It’s risky business comparing an unproven player to an established veteran. In fact, comparing any two players is like playing with fire. Some comparisons carry some stereotypes–racial or otherwise. After all, who is Jordy Nelson compared to other than Ed McCaffrey?

But throughout practice, House made play after play. And after a strip of an unsuspecting Jarrett Boykin during a team drill, I thought of Bears cornerback Peanut Tillman. Now, Tillman is likely the best in the business at stripping (or punching) the football from the ball carrier, and House’s 11 career game appearances are dwarfed by Tillman’s 33 interceptions and 39 forced fumbles.

So needless to say, House isn’t in Tillman’s league as things currently stand. But from a physical standpoint, Tillman isn’t a bad comparison for House.

Tillman stands slightly over 6’1″, slightly taller than the 6’0″ House, but both players weigh in at just under 200 pounds and have (slightly) above-average straight-line speed.

Since House wears No. 31 and has dreadlocks hanging out the back of his helmet, he’s often likened to former Pro Bowl cornerback Al Harris. That’s not a bad comparison either, but I think House is naturally more physical than Harris at the point of attack. Harris was a physical corner, no doubt, but House likes sticking his nose in there in the running game.

And now that the team’s best turnover maker, Charles Woodson–owner of 38 interceptions and 15 forced fumbles in seven seasons in Green Bay–is playing with the Oakland Raiders, the Packers will need someone to step up and fill that void.

Last season, Hayward stepped up and picked off a team-high six interceptions. This season, House could be the secondary’s breakout player.

During Thursday morning’s practice, House provided blanket coverage on the perimeter. On one play, Jordy Nelson had a step on House on a deep post route, but House recovered and punched the ball out of Nelson’s hands, breaking up what would have been about a 40-yard gain.

Back in May, I took a stab at five potential breakout players for 2013, and House came in at No. 2, behind only Morgan Burnett.

15

July

Ten Packers Training Camp Topics: #10 – Who Starts at Cornerback?

Sam Shields is coming off a great 2012 season, but how will he fare in 2013?

Sam Shields is coming off a great 2012 season, but how will he fare in 2013?

Headed into training camp, the Packers’ depth at cornerback is not in question, but which players find the field is something to keep an eye on.

Returning from last season is Casey Hayward, who led the team with six interceptions. Hayward took over as the team’s nickelback when Charles Woodson suffered a broken collarbone, and the rookie went on to finish third in the voting for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. In May, we put Hayward’s rookie season under the microscope and looked ahead to what he has in store for his sophomore campaign.

The training camp competition at cornerback will feature Hayward battling it out against Tramon Williams, Sam Shields and Davon House. But of all possible scenarios, it’s hard to imagine one in which Hayward is the odd-man out.

Last season, the Packers led the NFL in nickel and dime usage. ESPN Stats & Information, the team used five or more defensive backs on 66.8 percent of the plays.

This would suggest that three of the four players will emerge from the competition and become a part of the rotation. However, the team is four-deep at the position for the first time in recent memory, so it’s certainly possible that all four players will see the field, depending on the matchup.

Williams, the now-30-year-old elder statesman of the group, has started 66 games in the past five seasons. But after suffering a shoulder injury in 2011, Williams hasn’t played at 100 percent the past two seasons. According to JSOnline.com, he has worked his way back to being closer to full strength.

And without Charles Woodson in the fold, Williams, in some capacity, will take on a larger leadership role in the secondary.

Question: Which three players “start” at cornerback?

Shields signed his restricted free agent tender to remain with the team in 2013, but he and the Packers have yet to agree on a long-term extension, perhaps in part because they still have a largely unknown commodity in House.

Last summer, the position battle focused on the starting spot opposite Williams. Prior to suffering a shoulder injury in the preseason opener, House appeared to be in line to win the job. Shields capitalized on House being sidelined and, after a disappointing 2012, had a great rebound year.

6

July

When will Davon House crack the starting lineup?

Packers CB Davon House

Packers CB Davon House

For the first time in a while, cornerback may be the deepest position on the Green Bay Packers roster.

Tramon Williams is entering his eighth season with the Packers, Sam Shields is coming off his second impressive season in three years and Casey Hayward is fresh off a six-interception campaign in which he finished third in the voting for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Last season, the Packers have led the NFL in dime and nickel packages, so Williams, Shields and Hayward each played a considerable amount. But all three will face stiff competition this summer from third-year cornerback Davon House.

House suffered a left shoulder subluxation in the first week of the preseason, forcing him to play with a harness for the nine games he was able to suit up for. But prior to the injury, House looked like he was on his way to earning a starting job.

“It was mine to lose and I lost it because of injuries to me,” House said, per the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “But later on in the season, Shields got hurt and it gave me an opportunity to step in there. I think it showed the coaches that I can play.”

House played 318 snaps in his second season, highlighted by a blocked punt in Week 8 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. But for House, 2013 is a new opportunity and another chance at earning (and keeping) a starting job.

“House is back here; he looks great,” McCarthy told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel‘s Tom Silverstein. “He had his surgery and I thought he had an excellent training camp. He’ll definitely be someone who’ll push for a starting position or definitely a big role in our defense.”

House will have his sights set on an expanded role with the base defense, but it won’t be easy. Williams, 30, has been a mainstay in the starting lineup for five years, while Shields and Hayward did nothing but impressive last season.

Opposing quarterbacks throwing in Hayward’s direction had a combined passer rating of 31.1 last season, and when Charles Woodson went down, Hayward’s role as the nickelback became increasingly important. The rookie proved capable of playing on the perimeter as well, but he enters training camp as the odds-on favorite to be (at the very least) the slot man in the nickel package.

24

May

Will Tramon Williams return to 2010 form?

Packers CB Tramon Williams

Packers CB Tramon Williams

Coming off a memorable postseason in 2010, Packers cornerback Tramon Williams suffered a serious shoulder injury in the first game of 2011 that still hasn’t fully healed.

A year earlier, in the Packers’ run to Super Bowl XLV, Williams emerged as one of the top cover corners in football.

That season, Williams started all 16 games for the first time in his career. He intercepted a career-high six passes in the regular season and picked off another three balls in the playoffs.

At that point, ProFootballFocus ranked Williams No. 7 among the 69 cornerbacks that played at least 50 percent of their team’s snaps. This past season, Williams came in at No. 43 among 71 players at the position.

The shoulder injury has certainly played a part in Williams’ performance the past two seasons.

“I had some tears in my shoulder and I had nerve damage in my shoulder, and it was tough,” Williams told 107.5 The Fan in March. “I only missed one game because of it, but it should have been one of those things to where I should have sat down for quite a few games. But at the same time, I haven’t been hurt at any point in my career … Everyone goes through adversity at some point in their career — that was one of my points, and I got through it.”

Williams didn’t appear on the injury report in 2012 because he never considered missing any game action, according to ProFootballTalk. But the lingering shoulder issue has prevented Williams from being the physical impact corner he was before the injury.

“It was kind of hard to sit back, because when you’re off, you’re kind of giving away some throws,” Williams said. “You don’t want to give up anything. So you have to kind of compensate your game for the injury, but like I said, I got through it and just continue to progress. I had nerve damage, so that’s one thing that takes time. It could be a year, it could be two years to come back. And it’s made progress, but it’s still coming. So it’s one of those deals to where my shoulder’s still getting better at this point. I’m still working on it and hopefully it comes all the way back this year.”

21

May

Casey Hayward: What’s in store for his encore?

Packers CB Casey Hayward

Packers CB Casey Hayward

Packers cornerback Casey Hayward was the 62nd overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, but he was among most impactful defensive backs in football last season.

According to Pro Football Focus, opposing quarterbacks had a collective passer rating of 31.1 when throwing at Hayward. And among cornerbacks who played at least 50 percent of their team’s defensive snaps, Hayward came in at No. 3 in the league, sandwiched between Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and Minnesota’s Antoine Winfield.

The rookie went from being buried on the depth chart early in the season–Hayward played just three snaps in the season opener against the 49ers—to being, perhaps, the most irreplaceable part of the secondary.

When veteran Charles Woodson suffered a broken collarbone in Week 7, Hayward’s presence became increasingly important. From Week 7 to Week 14, Hayward played 88.5 percent of the Packers’ defensive snaps.

Coming into the season, Woodson was expected to play safety in the base and bump up to slot cornerback in the nickel. But when Hayward emerged as the team’s most reliable turnover creator, playing primarily in the slot, Woodson’s role was drastically reduced by the time he returned for the playoffs.

This offseason, the Packers decided to cut ties with Woodson, who was set to count nearly $10 million against the salary cap. Woodson, 36, remained a fan favorite at the time of his release, but the presence of a promising young talent in Hayward made the move easier to swallow.

As a team, the Packers accounted for 18 interceptions in 2012, which was tied for eighth-most in the NFL. Hayward led all rookies and tied for fifth in the league with six picks.

 

1. Week 5 @ Indianapolis (4th Quarter, 13:09)

QB: Andrew Luck / WR: Reggie Wayne / Position: Slot

Hayward’s first career interception came against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 5. Matched up against Colts receiver Reggie Wayne in the slot, Hayward matched him stride-for-stride and made the play on the ball.

Wayne dominated the Packers throughout the game, catching 13 passes for 212 yards and a score. But according to PFF, Hayward allowed just one reception on three targets on the afternoon. Luck’s passer rating when throwing at Hayward was an abysmal 6.9.

2. Week 6 @ Houston (4th Quarter, 7:11)

16

May

Five potential breakout players for 2013: Who will it be?

Packers CB Davon House

Packers CB Davon House

Every NFL season begins with a blank slate and ends with a long list of newly-minted star players.

Last season, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick may be the prime example of a player that took the next step and pushed his team to the next level, as San Francisco won the NFC and advanced to Super Bowl XLVII.

Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas went from being an afterthought in a Tim Tebow-led offense in 2011 to being one of the most dangerous offensive players in football in 2012. Thomas ranked fourth in the NFL with 1,434 receiving yards.

And in Green Bay, a pair of Packers wideouts enjoyed breakout years of their own.

After showing flashes of brilliance as a rookie in 2011, Randall Cobb exploded onto the scene last season, leading the team with 80 catches and 954 receiving yards. Cobb is the odds-on favorite to lead the team in both categories in 2013.

Fellow receiver James Jones enjoyed a breakout season of his own. Jones set career highs in all three major categories, catching 64 passes for 784 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Playing in an offense with Aaron Rodgers under center, any receiver could become the team’s “go-to guy” on a week-to-week basis. But Jordy Nelson had his coming-out party in 2011, and Jones and Cobb had their last year. So unless one of the Packers young, unproven receivers can take a step forward and join the rotation, this year’s breakout player may be on the defensive side of the ball.

Let’s take a look at five potential breakout candidates for the 2013 season. Feel free to comment and let me know who you think will be the team’s breakout player this season, even if they’re not on the list.

(NOTE: Rookies will not be included on this list. It’s tough to forecast a rookie having a breakout year when he has yet to play a single down at the NFL level. That means Eddie Lacy, Johnathan Franklin and Datone Jones are not listed.)

1. FS Morgan Burnett

It took Nick Collins until his fourth season to reach his potential. Morgan Burnett may not be Collins, but there are some distinct similarities between the two. And through their first three NFL seasons, Burnett trumps Collins in most statistical categories.