GREEN BAY — Herb Waters doesn’t recall the exact moment when the Packers approached him about potentially switching from receiver to cornerback.
All the undrafted rookie out of Miami (Fla.) heard at the time was opportunity knocking. If it meant playing cornerback, Waters was all for it.
“They gave me the option, but I felt like any way to help the team and team win, I’m here for it,” said Waters this week. “I’ve been an athlete all of my life so I’m just doing it and making the transition.”
A four-month crash course at the position culminated with Waters being activated to the 53-man roster this week after spending the past 17 weeks learning his new position on the practice squad.
Waters (6-0, 188) impressed the Packers with his speed and athleticism coming out of Miami. Although Waters didn’t make the active roster as a receiver, Green Bay brought him back after final cuts with the idea of trying him out at cornerback.
Packers cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt has been in this position before. Perhaps his greatest success story is developing another former Hurricane receiver, Sam Shields, into a Pro Bowl cornerback in Green Bay’s secondary.
Once the regular season began, Whitt often could be found working with Waters off to the side on his footwork and back-pedaling. Waters had good days and bad days, but Whitt never lost patience with his newest pupil.
“I have to give all the credit to Coach Joe because he’s been there with me, he never gave up on me,” Waters said. “He’s always standing there by my side even when I felt like I wasn’t fit for it, he still persuaded me and kept my confidence up high. I tip my hat off to Coach Joe.”
When the Packers initially presented the idea to Waters, the first thing the rookie did was find Shields to get his opinion on the matter. If anyone could relate, it was certainly the seventh-year veteran.
Shields was a little ahead of Waters’ schedule since he shifted to cornerback during his senior year at Miami, but he could relate to how difficult it was to adjust to playing cornerback at the next level.
Shields’ advice to Waters was fairly straightforward: “If it’s best for you, then do it. We’re going to be here to help you.”
Shields has been away from the team for most of the year after sustaining a concussion in the regular-season opener against Jacksonville, but second-year cornerback LaDarius Gunter has been a good resource for Waters in Shields’ absence.
Gunter, another Miami alumnus, used to practice against Waters on a daily basis. The two were close and have only grown closer since they started sharing a positional room in September.
“He was a fast guy, fast, shifty guy,” Gunter said. “So making that transition to corner was very good for him knowing he can match up with smaller, quicker guys and get vertical just like they can; use his ball skills, his receiver skills. It’s been good for him.”
Asked what stands out about Waters, a majority of teammates surveyed immediately point to his speed. However, he’s also shown a lot of perseverance in his positional switch.
Defensive back Micah Hyde gained a lot of respect for Waters in practice. While Waters had his share of rookie moments early on, he never let it phase him. He always picked himself up and made sure it didn’t happen twice.
“I can remember the first couple practices he did some good things, but at the same time you’re like, ‘Ooooh,’ which is going to happen,” Hyde said. “You’re going to have growing pains when you switch positions.
“I switched from nickel to safety and I had growing pains. I’m still a defensive back. I think the best thing about Herb is that he made his mistakes, but he learned from them.”
Waters said it took about “two or three weeks” for him to start feeling like a cornerback. He also had a little background at the position after picking off two passes during his days playing cornerback at Homestead (Fla.) High School.
Since coming to Green Bay, he’s kept an open mind and vowed to do whatever the coaches ask of him, whether it was as a receiver or cornerback. Even today, he uses his background as a wideout to help him understand his new position.
Waters didn’t know whether he’d get the call to the 53-man roster this year, but he said he’s ready to contribute in any shape or form after the team placed fellow cornerback Makinton Dorleant on injured reserve earlier this week.
“Herb has earned this opportunity,” Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “We obviously brought him up for a reason. It’s not convenience.
“This young man has been working every single day and we feel he’s ready to contribute on the 53-man roster and potentially the 46. You don’t put people on your 53-man roster if they can’t perform on the 46.”
The opportunity hasn’t sunk in yet for Waters, but he couldn’t be happier about the way things played out even if it’s not at the position he was playing when he first came to Green Bay.
“It’s been a great journey, honestly,” Waters said. “I wouldn’t change anything. Just continue to go forward with it, with everything I’ve done before and everything I’m doing now, and just continue to go stay on course.”