The following is the seventh installment in a series of stories that’s examining the Packers’ roster position by position. The series continues with the defensive backs.
GREEN BAY – The Packers will have a change at cornerback in their starting lineup in 2015, but that change isn’t a concern for position coach Joe Whitt.
It’s building the depth chart behind presumptive starters Sam Shields and Casey Hayward, who is replacing the departed Tramon Williams, that is occupying Whitt’s attention.
“If Casey’s healthy, Sam’s healthy, those two guys can play,” Whitt said as the offseason program wrapped up last month. “I’m looking for the next two.”
Two top candidates are the Packers’ top two draft picks, Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins. Whitt has never hesitated to play rookie cornerbacks if they show they belong – Shields in 2010 and Hayward in 2012 both saw the field plenty as rookies – so the door is open.
Randall is converting from safety, though he did play his share of man coverage at Arizona State. Whitt said Rollins had the most interceptions of the corners through OTAs and minicamp, though he by no means has the defense down pat.
“On one interception, he was dead wrong,” Whitt said. “But he got the ball, and that counts for something.”
The versatile Micah Hyde is always an option in the slot, while second-year pro Demetri Goodson, like Rollins a former basketball star, will continue his transition after a rookie season that featured all of his game action on special teams.
Practice-squad holdover Tay Glover-Wright, early spring signee Kyle Sebetic and undrafted rookie LaDarius Gunter from Miami will look to enter the fray as well. At 6-2, 201, Gunter is the biggest corner on the roster and made a strong first impression at rookie orientation back in May.
With nickel and dime defenses the norm, having at least a half dozen options at cornerback is almost a must in today’s NFL. That’s why there’s so much to sort out beyond Shields and Hayward, where no one but Hyde has been in the league for more than a year.
“I’m excited about where those two guys are,” Whitt said of his starters. “Sam had an outstanding OTAs. Those two guys I’m not worried about. I have to get everybody else up to speed.”
At safety, the Packers are light years ahead of where they were just two seasons ago.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix proved worthy of his first-round draft status last year, moving into the starting lineup alongside Morgan Burnett. They form a starting duo the Packers could keep together for quite some time, and they combined for three of the defense’s four interceptions in the NFC title game in Seattle.
Hyde learned the position last season and could step in anytime if needed, while the Packers matched a restricted free agent offer sheet to bring back Sean Richardson. He was frequently employed in a run-stopping sub package last year and was the team’s leading tackler on special teams.
Chris Banjo spent much of his second season on the practice squad as a veteran exemption, and Jean Fanor was a late-season addition to the practice squad in 2014 who hails from Nick Collins’ alma mater, Bethune-Cookman.
Countdown to Camp: Position-by-position roster series