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Can Shields handle the nickel back position?

Posted By Mitch McLaughlin On Sep 9 2010 @ 12:48 pm In Green Bay Packers | No Comments

A defense’s 12th player isn’t usually such a crucial position, but for the Green Bay Packers, that player might determine the fate of this year’s talented team.

Heading into its Week 1 matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles, it appears Green Bay will be counting on undrafted rookie Sam Shields to play that vital role. And not just play it, play it well.

Green Bay is in its second season running a 3-4 defense, but with three and four-receiver sets being used so much more frequently throughout the NFL, defensive coordinator Dom Capers runs out a 2-4-5 defensive alignment almost half of the time.

Oh by the way, the Packers corners primarily play man-to-man coverage the entire game, so the nickel back is basically another starter on defense. And the 2010 Packers are HOPING they have that guy on their roster.

General Manager Ted Thompson didn’t spend a single draft pick on a cornerback, nor sign a veteran in case Al Harris wasn’t ready by the start of the season.

Nine months after Harris’ severe knee injury, which sidelined him for the final seven games, there’s still a glaring concern at the backup cornerback positions.

Fourth-year pro Jarrett Bush and rookie Brandon Underwood played most of the snaps at the end of last season and the pass defense suffered mightily; surrendering 37 points to the Steelers in week 15 and 45 more to Cardinals in the wild-card playoff game.

I know they were they were the second-ranked defense last season, but against quality offenses and quarterbacks, the team was just 2-5 (wins over Dallas and Baltimore; losses to Cincinnati, Minnesota, Pittsburgh and Arizona).

So the No. 2 ranking, is yes, very, very deceiving.

Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger completed 29 of 45 passes for 503 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-36 win, while Kurt Warner torched the Packers for 379 yards and five touchdowns on 29 of 33 passes in the 51-45 overtime thriller.

Including the two losses to the Minnesota Vikings and some guy named Favre, the defense allowed 18 touchdown passes and had ZERO interceptions; this from a unit that had 30 interceptions in the other 13 games.

Reigning defensive player of the year Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams form a nice pair of starters, but will that third corner spot turn into a problem for a team that is getting its most Super Bowl hype since the late ’90s when Holmgren, White and Favre were leading the team.

In Sam Shields, they have a young player with amazing speed, but in a defense that relies on so much man coverage, can Shields help the Packers defense improve?

Its Super Bowl hopes might depend on it.

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