Corner­backs could have made dif­fer­ence

Thomp­son let three play­mak­ers get away

Packer Plus - - Commentary - Send email to ro­breis­chel@gmail.com ROB REISCHEL

Green Bay — On March 10, 2015, for­mer Pack­ers cor­ner­back Davon House signed a four-year, $24.75 mil­lion con­tract with Jack­sonville that con­tained $10 mil­lion in guar­an­teed money.

Eight days later, Tra­mon Wil­liams — an­other ex-Pack­ers stand­out cor­ner — signed a three-year, $21 mil­lion deal with Cleve­land that also in­cluded $10 mil­lion in guar­an­teed money.

Fi­nally on March 13, 2016, cor­ner­back Casey Hay­ward left Green Bay and signed with San Diego for three years and $15.3 mil­lion. Of that, $6.8 mil­lion was guar­an­teed.

In a mat­ter of just 368 days, the Pack­ers lost three of their top four corner­backs from a unit that ranked 10th against the pass in 2014 and sev­enth in op­pos­ing quar­ter­backs rat­ing.

“Those guys, they’re ath­letic guys and they’re great cor­ners,” Pack­ers safety Mor­gan Bur­nett said. “And you see they’re do­ing great things for their re­spec­tive teams.”

In each sit­u­a­tion, Green Bay gen­eral man­ager Ted Thomp­son made lit­tle or no ef­fort to re-sign the play­ers. To­day, it’s cost­ing the Pack­ers dearly as the play of their wretched sec­ondary is at the fore­front of their mis­er­able sea­son.

Thomp­son gam­bled that 2015 top draft picks Da­mar­i­ous Ran­dall and Quin­ten Rollins, along with 2014 sixth-rounder Demetri Good­son, could pick up the slack. It’s re­mark­able how badly Thomp­son read the sit­u­a­tion.

To­day, a com­bi­na­tion of in­juries and a lack of growth from Green Bay’s young cor­ners has sent the Pack­ers spi­ral­ing to a No. 31 rank­ing in op­po­nent’s quar­ter­back rat­ing (105.5) and a No. 24 mark in op­po­nent’s pass­ing yards per game (265.6).

“I tell my guys as long as the quar­ter­back plays well and the cor­ner­back plays well, we’ll win here at the Green Bay Pack­ers, and I firmly be­lieve that,” Pack­ers corner­backs coach Joe Whitt said. “Well, we have to play bet­ter, and I don’t care who goes out there, and I have to coach bet­ter. I’m not go­ing to make any ex­cuses. It’s time to make plays. It’s time to get it down. We can do it, and if we want to have the suc­cess that we’re go­ing to have, we bet­ter do it. It’s as sim­ple as that.”

In­di­vid­u­ally, Green Bay could have sur­vived with­out one or two of the Hay­ward-House-Wil­liams trio. But los­ing all three was a blow that left the 2016 Pack­ers with­out the nec­es­sary depth and ex­pe­ri­ence to hold up in back.

Ran­dall, Green Bay’s top pick in 2015, played well at times dur­ing his rookie sea­son and led the Pack­ers with four in­ter­cep­tions. But Ran­dall was also beat far too of­ten, then was the pri­mary cul­prit on Larry Fitzger­ald’s 75-yard re­cep­tion in over­time that al­lowed Ari­zona to elim­i­nate the Pack­ers in the NFC di­vi­sional play­offs.

Ran­dall had an up and down start to 2016, then missed six games with a groin in­jury. Right now, the ver­dict re­mains out whether or not he can be a high level cor­ner.

Rollins, the Pack­ers’ sec­on­dround pick in 2015, showed tough­ness and a ball-hawk­ing abil­ity as a rookie that led Green Bay to be­lieve his fu­ture was re­mark­ably bright. But Rollins also missed three games this sea­son with a groin in­jury, and when he’s played, he hasn’t been nearly as ef­fec­tive as 2015.

“If you don’t feel that you’re ca­pa­ble of put­ting on a win­ning per­for­mance, don’t be on the field,” Whitt said of Rollins. “I think Quin­ten has felt he’s ca­pa­ble of giv­ing us win­ning per­for­mances; that’s why he’s play­ing. I’ve got to do a bet­ter job of get­ting some of his tech­ni­cal things cor­rect.”

Good­son suf­fered a dev­as­tat­ing leg in­jury in Wash­ing­ton in Week 11. And se­cond-year man LaDar­ius Gunter has been up and down.

Granted, Green Bay’s sec­ondary would be sub­stan­tially bet­ter had Sam Shields not suf­fered his fifth doc­u­mented con­cus­sion in Week 1, an in­jury that now threat­ens his ca­reer. But after Shields missed four games late in the 2015 sea­son with the fourth con­cus­sion of his ca­reer, Thomp­son and team doc­tors had to know his ca­reer was in jeop­ardy.

“He’s meant a lot to me over the past cou­ple of years,” Whitt said of Shields. “He’s a good guy to be with, and he brings so much to this team.”

So did Wil­liams, House and Hay­ward — and any of them could have pro­vided a lift dur­ing this tu­mul­tuous year for Green Bay’s sec­ondary.

Hay­ward has had a sen­sa­tional sea­son in San Diego, emerg­ing as one of the NFL’s top cor­ners with six in­ter­cep­tions and 16 passes de­fensed. For com­par­i­son’s sake, Green Bay had just seven in­ter­cep­tions through its first 10 games.

Hay­ward be­gan the year as the Charg­ers’ No. 2 cor­ner­back. But after top cor­ner­back Ja­son Ver­rett suf­fered a sea­son-end­ing ACL in­jury, Hay­ward took over his spot and has shined.

How much do you think Whitt would give to have Hay­ward back in green and gold?

House sur­ren­dered a passer rat­ing of be­low 80.0 dur­ing his first year in Jack­sonville. This sea­son, House strug­gled and was re­placed in the start­ing lineup after four games. But his size, ath­leti­cism and knowl­edge of Green Bay’s sys­tem would have been valu­able as­sets.

Wil­liams, 33, was un­doubt­edly on the down­side when he left Green Bay. But Wil­liams has started 20 games dur­ing his two sea­sons in Cleve­land and might have been able to stop the bleed­ing dur­ing this mis­er­able stretch.

“We re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate those guys and what those guys did for our team,” Bur­nett said of the three de­parted cor­ners. “But now we have a new group, new wave of play­ers and ev­ery­one has to be held ac­count­able.” Es­pe­cially Thomp­son. As of Mon­day, Green Bay was $10.086 mil­lion un­der the NFL’s salary cap. The Pack­ers fin­ished 2015 with $7.175 mil­lion of salary cap space.

In both years, the Pack­ers had plenty of room to pay one of their for­mer corner­backs. In­stead, Thomp­son let all three walk.

Per­haps Thomp­son should be the next one do­ing the walk­ing.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

San Diego Charg­ers cor­ner­back Casey Hay­ward, formerly with the Pack­ers, has six in­ter­cep­tions this sea­son.

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