Another day, another couple big plays by undrafted rookie cornerback Sam Shields.
During Thursday morning’s practice, Flynn threw a short pass toward the sideline to Jason Chery. Shields broke on the ball, tipped the ball just as it reached Chery’s hands and caught it for what would have been a touchdown for the defense.
Shields was at it again during the night practice, with a leaping deflection of a long pass to Patrick Williams and a breakup of an intermediate route to Chery. He wasn’t perfect, as he got beaten deep for a touchdown by Greg Jennings.
The next step in Shields’ run to a roster spot will take place in Saturday night’s preseason game against Cleveland at Lambeau Field.
“I’m very excited,” the usually understated Shields said after the morning practice. “It’s the first game of the preseason. Just go out there and make some plays and make one of the coaches proud.”
Based on sheer ability, cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt says Shields is the most talented cornerback on the team. If he gets the mental game down, he could wind up being a major steal, Whitt said.
“Oh, I’ve made big, big progress,” he said. “When I first got here, I was lost, and each day I kept staying in the playbook, coach Joe Whitt, he told me strategies on how to learn the plays and that’s what I did and it helped me out a lot.”
Thursday night’s practice was scheduled to be in full pads. Instead, the players came out in shells on a warm and muggy night — though it felt like a brisk autumn afternoon in comparison to the scorching sun, stifling humidity and lack of a breeze in the morning.
“Well, honestly, I like where we are right now,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “You always look at the medical report. Padded practice is only two days (this week), which I’ve done in the past, but I’m a little worried about the second half and our numbers on special teams. I didn’t want to go out here and go two-plus hours. We went shells and the tempo — it was the best tempo we had all camp. It was 22 minutes early from a tempo standpoint, so that’s outstanding. I think they like the shells.”
A whopping 22 players sat out the morning practice due to injuries and McCarthy’s decision to give all veterans with seven-plus years of experience the morning off. Only nine players sat out the night practice, which included the return of linebacker Nick Barnett (knee) and Donald Driver (calf). Driver looked especially impressive in his first practice in a week.
Those missing from the night session: safety Will Blackmon (knee), linebackers Alex Joseph (quad), Clay Matthews (hamstring) and Cyril Obiozor (calf) and center-guard Jason Spitz, as well as PUP players Atari Bigby, Al Harris and James Starks. New to the list was guard/tackle T.J. Lang, who sustained a bruised thigh in the morning and might not play on Saturday.
Bigby, Harris, Starks and Matthews are out for Saturday. McCarthy said Barnett had a “slight” chance to play, and others who aren’t expected to play include Blackmon, Joseph, Obiozor and Spitz. Charles Woodson will play.
Mason Crosby hit 3-of-4 field goals from between 46 and 49 yards in the morning practice, with the miss coming from the hold of punter Chris Bryan. In the night session, he hit three shorter ones.
Tim Masthay got the better of the punting battle in the morning. Bryan averaged 37.3 yards on six punts, including one dreadful shank when backed up in his end zone. In two pooch punt chances, his kicks reached the 11 (fair catch) and 14 (downed inside the 5). Masthay averaged 43.8 yards on four punts, with his pooch punt landing at the 13 and being downed around the 2. All averages are approximate, since the grass at Ray Nitschke Field was cut but the yard-line numbers weren’t reapplied.
— Brad Jones and Brady Poppinga were the No. 1 outside linebackers, with Brandon Chillar and Frank Zombo the second tandem.
— Linebacker-turned-tight end-turned-linebacker Spencer Havner took some No. 1 linebacker reps with A.J. Hawk as the coaches tried to bring him up to speed on the defense.
— Speaking of double duty, Bryan Bulaga will play both guard and tackle on Saturday. “He can handle it,” McCarthy said.
— There is no public practice on Friday. The game kicks off at 7 p.m. on Saturday. There is no practice on Sunday, so fans’ next chance at Ray Nitschke Field will be at 2 p.m. on Monday.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.