Mike McCarthy said it again on Wednesday, that he doesn’t think in terms of having only 11 starters on either side of the ball.
Applied specifically to the defensive backfield, that could mean various roles are available for the Packers’ young stable of cornerbacks and safeties as 2012 evolves.
At corner, second-year pro Davon House and rookie second-round draft pick Casey Hayward are the leading candidates to join Tramon Williams, Charles Woodson, Sam Shields and Jarrett Bush in the playing rotation.
Williams was never fully healthy after injuring his shoulder in the 2011 opener, so he’ll look to regain his 2010 form, when he was one of the defense’s biggest difference-makers.
Woodson could move to safety in the base defense, which the Packers employ only 10 or 15 percent of the time, but he’ll likely remain a roving slot corner in the oft-used nickel.
Shields, in his third year, is still young as well, and enters 2012 with plenty to prove after following up a strong rookie campaign with a sub-par sophomore season.
Bush started to take some of Shields’ snaps late last year, while House and Hayward officially enter the competition now. House shined in the spring after an injury-wrecked rookie year, and Hayward was one of three defenders whom General Manager Ted Thompson traded up to select in the draft.
Practice-squad holdover Brandian Ross was impressive at times last summer and will try to make an even stronger bid for a roster spot this time. Undrafted rookies Otis Merrill from Illinois State and Dion Turner from Southern Utah will try to duplicate the strong impression Ross made a year ago to warrant a longer look.
At safety, much will be made of Woodson’s potential move in base, but a second safety will still be needed in the nickel package to join starter Morgan Burnett, and a third safety could see the field in some version of the dime package.
With Charlie Peprah's release on Wednesday, M.D. Jennings, Anthony Levine and fourth-round draft pick Jerron McMillian are the leading competitors for that spot, followed by two undrafted rookies in Sean Richardson, a college teammate of Hayward’s at Vanderbilt, and Micah Pellerin from Hampton.
Jennings (pictured), who made the roster as an undrafted rookie last year, worked the most with the No. 1 defense in the spring and could be poised for a big jump in his second season. Levine was getting noticed in training camp last summer before a concussion cut things short and relegated him to the practice squad. McMillian earned a reputation as a strong tackler at Maine and will look to show that when the pads come on.