GREEN BAY – Most of the cornerback talk during training camp thus far has centered around the trio of second-year Packers moving around the defensive formation, from outside to the slot, trying different positions.
Meanwhile, Sam Shields just keeps doing the same ol’ thing, heading out to the boundary to line up across from the offense’s No. 1 target, and the seventh-year veteran is just fine with that.
“That’s what my job is, to hold that guy, whoever it is, to shut him down,” Shields said before practice on Wednesday. “That’s my main focus.”
Focused is a good word to describe Shields this camp. Anytime he gets a break from the 11-on-11 reps or the positional drills – during a special-teams period, for instance – he can be seen off to the side near a blocking sled, practicing his footwork or his jam at the line of scrimmage.
It’s his way of “grinding,” to use his word, and honing his favorite coverage technique, which is to press.
As quiet as they get in the Packers’ locker room, Shields is also serious about his role as the elder statesman among the Packers’ young cornerbacks.
Three years ago was Shields’ first in the league without Charles Woodson around. Then last year suddenly Tramon Williams wasn’t here, either, and the Packers brought in three rookie corners – first- and second-round picks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, plus undrafted LaDarius Gunter – who needed some guidance.
The duty didn’t change Shields’ reserved personality much. He said he talks a little more than he used to, and he’ll pull one of the young guys off to the side on the practice field on occasion to go over something.
But mostly, Shields just does his thing, knowing a lot of young eyes are on him.
“Oh yeah, most definitely,” he said. “They watch. They know how to learn and know how to listen, and players like that, they get themselves better.”
Shields credits the young trio for “knowing what they’re doing” in Year 2. They understand the scheme and are learning not just their assignment but that of others on defense, too.
He said they don’t have to ask him a lot of questions, which is further validation that his way of leading works. Before he left after the 2012 season, Woodson told Shields he’d be the group’s leader someday, and while it would require some adjusting, the role didn’t have to transform him.
“I’m not a talkative person, and he knew that,” Shields said of Woodson. “So he was like, ‘Just let your play speak for itself. You don’t have to be too loud. You can just let your play speak and everybody will feed off of it.’”
So far, so good.
Back in 2010, coming in as an undrafted rookie still making the transition from receiver to cornerback, Shields never imagined he’d be talking about playing a seventh year in the NFL, and as one of the league’s upper-echelon cornerbacks to boot.
He appreciates the tutelage he’s received from Joe Whitt Jr., who has been his position coach all along, and the challenges he’s been given on the field.
Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, now retired, was one of those twice-a-year challenges Shields won’t have to deal with anymore, but the NFC North won’t be lacking for star power at receiver.
The Bears added West Virginia’s Kevin White in the first round of the draft in 2014, and after a rookie season lost to injury, he’s expected to debut this fall opposite Alshon Jeffery. The Vikings’ first-round pick this past spring was Mississippi’s Laquon Treadwell, now paired with Stefon Diggs.
Shields is ready to take on anyone he’s asked to, and the young guys will mix and match as the coaches see fit. Moreso than he ever thought he’d be, he’s now a lot older than most of his opponents, but that’s just another sign he’s doing something right.
“I still feel young. I can still run and things like that. I don’t think that’ll go anywhere,” he said.
“Getting to this year, seven years, is a blessing. I never knew I was going to get this far, but hey, I’m here.”
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