GREEN BAY—Packers cornerback Davon House snagged his first NFL interception last season, but in his mind he should have had plenty more.
At Baltimore, he had a chance to grab an underthrown ball intended for Marlon Brown, but he let it slip through. Against Minnesota at Lambeau Field, he stepped in front of tight end John Carlson but dropped Christian Ponder’s pass. He got his hands on a couple of Colin Kaepernick’s throws in the playoffs as well.
Those and other missed opportunities prompted House to try some new drills this offseason – namely, catching tennis balls.
Since offseason rules prohibit players from doing anything with footballs until OTAs begin, House and Tramon Williams decided to work with a tennis ball machine for a few weeks. For one exercise, they’d lay on their back, pop up when they heard the machine launch the ball, and then have to find it and catch it.
“To me, so far it’s been good,” said House, who tried tennis ball drills back in college, too. “Does it really work? I don’t know. It’s been working for me. I like it.”
House has seen some positive results. He picked off a sideline pass in an OTA earlier this month that was open to reporters. He might have had another pick this past Tuesday had he not slipped when he saw a throw behind the receiver.
Those plays will matter more come training camp, when House will be battling for playing time in a deep stable of cornerbacks that features Williams, Sam Shields and Casey Hayward.
House shouldn’t be forgotten, though. With Hayward missing most of last season due to injury and Shields sidelined a few times here and there, House finished third on the team with 13 passes defensed, just one behind Williams.
A key difference is that Williams intercepted three passes among his 14 passes defensed, and added another pick on three break-ups in the playoffs. House had just the one interception, against Cleveland on a fourth-down pass, and also broke up three passes in the playoffs, but no more picks.
“To me, it’s been a confidence thing,” he said. “Last year I wasn’t confident in my hands. A lot of balls touched my hands and I didn’t come down with them.
“My mindset this year is I’m the same person with different hands, so I’m catching everything thrown my way.”
A fourth-round draft pick in 2011, House is entering the final year of his rookie contract. It’s a big season for him, and he certainly helped his prospects by answering the bell in the playoff game last year when Shields left the game with an injury on the first defensive series.
House hadn’t played on defense in a month, getting game snaps only on special teams over the final four regular-season games. Though he wasn’t flawless, he held his own in emergency duty against the 49ers, breaking up a couple of passes in or near the end zone.
“I was ready to prove to the world that I can play,” House said of stepping onto such a big stage. “To me, all of last year gave me a boost. That game was just the cherry on top.
“That playoff game, I had some really nice plays on a good receiver (Michael Crabtree). There are some plays I left out on the field that Tramon or Sam would have made and picked the ball off. This year, I expect to see more of that.”
That’s where the tennis balls come in. With better, more reliable hands, House believes he can build on what he considered a solid 2013 season, save for Thanksgiving Day in Detroit, when nearly everyone on defense had a rough day.
Where he fits in the rotation this year is difficult to say, and to be determined. Hayward is back and healthy, while Demetri Goodson was added to the cornerback group in the draft, but Micah Hyde has worked almost exclusively at safety this spring.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy said this week no jobs would be won during OTAs, and while House knows in reality that’s true, he doesn’t allow himself to think like that.
“Nope. Not me,” he said. “I go in every day like my job’s on the line. I just try to do better. For the last three years, it’s been you can’t win a job in OTAs, but you can get better.”