The opening day of training camp for the Green Bay Packers played out Thursday the way we outlined last month for one of their key players. The Packers' base defense featured Charles Woodson in a safety-like position, and Woodson shifted to the slot cornerback role when they were in nickel.
Here's what we didn't anticipate: The identity of the players who replaced Woodson at cornerback in the base scheme and at safety in nickel. Those roles went to Jarrett Bush and M.D. Jennings, respectively.
During the Packers' June minicamp, it seemed reasonable to expect Sam Shields -- the No. 3 cornerback for the past two seasons -- to slide into Woodson's base cornerback job. Likewise, we figured veteran Charlie Peprah would hold down the other safety spot in nickel, at least initially.
But the Packers appear determined to give Bush a true opportunity to prove himself as a cornerback in his seventh NFL season, even if it is merely a way to nudge the more-talented Shields to even out his game. Peprah, meanwhile, was released Wednesday. The Packers made that decision in part because of an ongoing knee problem, but clearly it also reflected elevated confidence in Jennings and rookie Jerron McMillian.
I'm fine with Jennings and/or McMillian fighting it out for the right to be what amounts to a nickel safety. I don't fully understand the Packers' ongoing fascination with Bush, who is an excellent special teams player, but has struggled to find a home as a defensive player in his career. So it goes.
Here's what Packers coach Mike McCarthy told reporters, via the Green Bay Press-Gazette, about the decision to elevate Bush over Shields, however temporary it might be: "The thing about Jarrett that's always been the case, he’s the same man every day. He just competes to get better. He makes plays out here on the practice field all the time. He had a good day again today. Sam's a very talented man that frankly needs experience. The offseason really helped him. He's stronger. You can see he's made progress in the weight room. To me it's not really about Sam versus Jarrett. We don't look at it that way. We need as many playmakers, as many DBs as possible. I anticipate they'll both be major contributors to our secondary."
One thing is certain: The Packers did not stand pat after giving up more passing yards last season than any team in NFL history. We've already discussed efforts to invigorate their front line, and now they are at least toying with a rearranged secondary as well. Different isn't always better, but in this case, the Packers owe it to themselves to take a look at every reasonable possibility.