The way Joe Whitt sees it, the Green Bay Packers could have so many options at cornerback next season that Tramon Williams will be competing for a starting job.
The Packers cornerbacks coach said Tuesday during the final assistant coach availability of the season that third-year man Sam Shields rebounded so well, rookie Casey Hayward burst onto the scene so impressively and second-year man Davon House showed enough promise that it’ll be a four-way competition for the two starting spots and third cornerback in the nickel defense.
"I tell you what, the group is going to be very competitive moving forward. We have a number of guys that it’s going to be interesting who the guys are going to be that run out there Day 1. Because right now, I couldn’t tell you who’s going to do what because of the way that Sam and Casey have played,” Whitt said. “With Tramon and House there, there are four guys that are vying for two spots, maybe three with nickel. It’ll be interesting to see who gets them.
"I wouldn’t say (Williams) is on the downside, I would say that Sam’s picked up his level of play, Casey probably played better than any of you all expected him to play and probably played better than I expected him to play. So the competition in the room has gotten better, and so that’s the case. I think Tramon, he graded out pretty well in most games. He covered pretty good. Just the competition in the room has improved.
"I believe in not allowing anybody to be comfortable. We don't work in a business that you can get comfortable and so the guys, we’ll always say, their play will dictate who runs through the tunnel. The guys that play the best will play. That practice the best, that have the best tests. We’re about winning championships, and we fell short. And that’s our charge. We’re going to put the guys out there that are doing the best. If it’s a different guy each week, that’s what it will be. We’re going to do that."
While Williams rebounded from a shoulder injury-derailed 2011 season, he was up-and-down for much of the year and did not play well in the Packers’ 45-31 NFC Divisional Playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
Williams had only two interceptions on the season – both against Chicago on Sept. 13 – and was credited with 22 pass breakups. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Williams played 1,240 snaps over 18 games (including playoffs) and allowed 63 completions in 115 targets for 852 yards, missed six tackles and had an opponent QB rating of 77.2 against him. Against the 49ers, he allowed six completions for 75 yards, according to the site.
“I think a lot of people were thinking that he was going to get back to his 2010 performance, and the performance he had that year if you go back and remember was really outstanding. And that’s what we want,” Whitt said. “You know … “
Whitt then paused for several seconds. “To say that I’m disappointed, no, because I know what he did week-in and week-out and what we ask him to do,” Whitt said. “Does he feel like he can play better in certain situations? I’m sure he does. But I know the positions we put him in, and we put him in some difficult positions that other people aren’t asked to be put in.”
According to Whitt, the plan for 2013 would be to have Hayward and Shields share in the challenging matchups next season, much as Williams and Charles Woodson did in 2010. For example, in the Packers’ two games against Detroit’s Calvin Johnson that year, they matched Woodson on Johnson in one game and Williams on him in the other.
“Now the question is, have Sam and Casey picked up their play where they can be put in some of those situations and so it’s an equal playing field?” Whitt said. “We’re putting Tramon in positions that we’re not even putting Sam and Casey in. How do they handle it if they’re put in that same situation? In 2010, he wasn’t put in as many because you had Woodson there as well.
“Now, there is no Woodson (since he moved to safety), so Tramon was put in all the difficult matchups. What I have to ask is, ‘Is Sam to the point where he can handle those difficult matchups? Is Casey to the point where he can get those difficult matchups and balance this thing out?’ Now, the play will look more like 2010 because he’s not in all those critical situations that he was the past two years.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.