GREEN BAY – The question is asked of Herb Waters without fail every time the Packers’ first-year cornerback returns home to Florida.
“People back home are like, ‘Are you still playing receiver?’” said Waters, smiling. “I’m always like, ‘Nah, I’m at corner now.’ It’s slowly setting in.”
Before Waters made an in-season switch during his rookie season in Green Bay a year ago, the native of Homestead, Fla., was known as an offensive playmaker during his four years at the University of Miami (Fla.).
Waters caught 99 passes for 1,534 yards and nine touchdowns in 47 games with 20 starts for the Hurricanes, with a bulk of that production coming his senior year when he set career highs in both receptions (41) and receiving yards (624).
After going undrafted, Waters signed to play receiver with the Packers as a college free agent, but he went without a catch in four preseason games. One of two dozen players released on cut-down day, Waters was offered a spot on the practice squad under one condition.
The Packers and position coach Joe Whitt wanted Waters to give cornerback a shot.
“Coming out of high school, Charlie Strong wanted me to come to Louisville to play corner,” Waters said. “I played in high school but I said no because I wanted to play receiver. I talked to the guys in the (cornerbacks) room and they’re like, ‘See, you should’ve played corner.’”
Whitt, who previously shepherded the conversion of Sam Shields from a Miami (Fla.) receiver to Pro Bowl cornerback, liked Waters’ makeup. At 6-foot, 188 pounds, Waters’ size, speed, quickness and arm length made him an ideal candidate to make a position switch.
Waters showed enough progress during his rookie year to not only warrant staying on the Packers’ practice squad in 2016, but also earn a call-up to the 53-man roster during the team’s playoff run.
He hoped to carry the momentum into 2017 before suffering a shoulder injury early in training camp, which led to Waters being placed on season-ending injured reserve. The news was devastating.
“I was hurt (emotionally); I was let down,” Waters said. “Unfortunately, things happen and God has other plans. I was terrified. I was kind of sad for a couple weeks until I got back up here after surgery and got back around the team, and the guys.”
Players who are placed on IR are allowed to rehab away from team facilities if they choose. However, Waters wanted to stick around Green Bay this season and continue learning the finer points of the position.
While unable to do any on-field activities, Waters continued to participate in the meeting room and followed all the happenings on the field. He took notes on how Davon House, Damarious Randall and even fellow undrafted free agents such as Josh Hawkins and Lenzy Pipkins went about handling their week-to-week assignments.
“Just picking up techniques from the other guys and seeing what they do in certain situations,” Waters said. “I’m a good learner. It just upped my game. Since I’m not playing, that’s all I can really do is learn from other guys and see how to handle situations.”
As players cleared out their lockers earlier this month, Waters acknowledged he still has “a couple more months” of rehab ahead of him before he’s fully cleared to return from the shoulder injury. However, he’s hoping to be “100 percent” for organized team activities this spring.
Since his injury occurred so early in training camp, Waters didn’t get a chance to play in a preseason game last August. Wanting to show how far he’s come as a cornerback, the idea of stepping on the field at his new position is what continues to push Waters during his training.
Whenever he steps back on the field, Waters believes having a chance to sit back and learn the position at a more controlled pace this past year will serve him well in the long run.
“I’m kind of glad I did stick around,” Waters said. “I just want to be the best cornerback I can be. Putting all my tools to the test and see where it goes. I haven’t really played in a game at corner, so I don’t know my ups and downs. But I’m just trying to keep a high pace and fly around.”