Packers XLV

Shields On Track to Win Nickel Job: Hurry Back Al

Posted August 31st, 2010 @ 03:08am

Just a week ago, it appeared that Brandon Underwood and Pat Lee were engaged in a spirited battle to see who would be the Pack's all-important third cornerback, assuming Al Harris wouldn't be ready to start the season.

With 12 days to go before the start of the season, Lee has fallen out of the running and Underwood is nursing a shoulder injury, providing an opportunity for undrafted free agent Sam Shields to win the job. The speedster from the University of Miami was a wide receiver as recently as 18 months ago. That he may start on the Pack's first defensive play of the 2010 is remarkable.

To say that he's made the most of this opportunity is an understatement. He's already earned a roster spot as a special teams gunner and corner. Whenever he's on the field you notice him. He seems to be a natural as a CB, even though his understanding of how to play the position is really in its infancy.

The truth is, if he starts at the nickel there will be growing pains. You can bet Andy Reid will test him early and often in the opener, probably matching him up with emerging tight end Brent Celek. I shudder to think how many catches he might have in that game--don't forget Kevin Kolb is making his first start in the post-McNabb era and will be looking for matchups he likes.

There is still a chance that Al Harris will be ready for the season in week one. But it is more likely that he'll either start the season on the PUP list, or will need a few weeks to get ready. With rookie safety Morgan Burnett assured a starting safety spot, the Pack could have two rookies in the secondary seeing a lot of action right out of the gate. With Cullen Jenkins nursing a calf injury, rookie Mike Neal might also see a lot of action in the opener.

Sure, Shields could step right in and prove to be a worthy nickel back. For my money, I love his upside, but will be counting the days to see if Harris can bounce back at age 35 and provide leadership and stability at the third cornerback spot.

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