GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Morgan Burnett didn’t think anything of it when Sam Shields asked him to autograph a pair of cleats. Players go around the Green Bay Packers' locker room all the time with all sorts of things -- footballs, photos, jerseys and, yes, even shoes -- for teammates to sign.
Then Burnett saw Shields with those very same cleats -- covered in signatures -- on his feet at practice.
“Just to see him out there wearing them,” Burnett said, “it shows the love he has for his teammates.”
Shields can’t wear the white Under Armour cleats for a game. If he did, he’d get fined by the NFL’s uniform police. But they’re part of the defensive back's regular footwear rotation for practice and they serve as a reminder that he’s not just playing for himself but for the other 10 guys he lines up with on defense.
“I was really doing it at first to play around,” Shields said. “But then it came to a point where I was like, ‘This is who I’m playing for on the defensive side.’”
It also serves as a reminder to Shields that even though he’s only 28 years old, he's entering his seventh NFL season and is the senior member at the cornerback position.
Not long ago, he was the new kid in the room -- the quiet, undrafted rookie who came into the league with only a $7,500 signing bonus and nothing else guaranteed -- trying to emulate veterans like Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams.
Early in his career, Shields, who is in the third season of a four-year, $39 million contract that included a $12.5 million signing bonus, rarely said more than two words in team or position meetings. He’s still not the most vocal guy in the locker room, but he leads by example and shows his young teammates how to be coached.
It might come as a surprise that only one NFL player has more interceptions than Shields since 2010, and that’s Seattle’s Richard Sherman, who has 28 in that time. Shields has 23 and would’ve had another one had he not dropped what could’ve been a game-changing pick in last season's playoff loss at Arizona.
“[He’s] still getting better,” cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. “One thing with [Woodson], I learned quickly that good players, great players, still want to be coached, they want to be pushed. I learned that with Wood, working with him. I am with Sam right now. He’s gotten to a point where he’s an elite player in my mind, but he still can get better. There’s areas in his game that he has to improve, and we work at it.”
That goes for Shields’ leadership skills, too, given that Whitt still can’t get him to speak up much. But all anyone has to do is look at Shields’ shoes in practice to see what he thinks of his teammates.
“When guys come around and want something signed, it could be for anything -- family, charity or anything,” Shields said. “But they had no idea until they saw me start wearing them during practice.
“A few guys asked me, ‘Hey, who signed your shoes?’ And I was like, ‘You signed them.’ And everyone was then looking for where they signed.”