Sam Shields

Shields didn't do himself any favors by muffing this punt.

A lot of people like undrafted rookie free agent cornerback Sam Shields.

He’s not only received a lot of coverage in the media, but both coaches and players have gone out of their way to praise his playmaking ability and his commitment to learning the game.

Shields has blazing speed and as they say, you can’t teach speed. Unfortunately, he played cornerback only one year at the University of Miami and only lined up in man-to-man coverage, so he’s extremely raw.

There were some camps, this one included, that thought Shields had a legitimate shot at making the Green Bay Packers roster as a return man, but he did nothing to help himself during Saturday night’s game.

Shields was given a shot as both a punt and kick returner. On two punt returns he had a fumble and a one-yard return. On one kickoff return he gained 13 yards. On another, he dropped the ball in the end zone before taking a knee.

The performance is indicative of Shields, who’s had problems fielding balls since day one. Now, he may be running out of time and opportunities as a returner.

When asked how long he would continue as a return man, special teams coach Shawn Slocum didn’t exactly give Shields a vote of confidence.

“Not long, because the season’s approaching. We’ll address that and we’ve got to move forward with our return position,” Slocum said. “That’s something we’ll take a close, hard look at.”

Although Shields may not be the Packers solution as a return man, he does have an upside. As with most undrafted players who make an NFL roster, his ticket to making the Packers will probably be a combination of his play on the other special teams units and his long-term potential.

Shields was a special teams ace at Miami, where he lined up as a gunner and won the team’s special teams player of the year in 2008. He still hasn’t cracked the Packers No. 1 defensive special teams units, but there’s still a lot of preseason left.

On the long-term side, Shields has plenty of potential.

As if they were marionettes being forced to dance by the Packers PR department, both the Journal Sentinel’s Tom Silverstein and the Press Gazette’s Pete Dougherty, wrote pretty much identical stories on the subject last Thursday.

Despite the lame shit appearing in our local media, Shields has flashed his playmaking ability on more than one occasion.

“He’s going to be special one day,” said Joe Whitt, the Packers’ cornerbacks coach.

“So you have to stay focused every play. His approach has been great, but the level of focus we’re looking for to win a championship, he has to maintain it. He’s not there yet, he’s not close. He’s going to get into these preseason games and make mistakes, I understand that. But when he finally realizes what he has and understands how to play corner, he’s going to be very good.”

The question is really whether the Packers can find a reason to keep Shields around.

He’s unlikely to be the team’s top returner and unless he cracks the top punting and kickoff units the Packers have a real tough decision on their hands.

Shields best bet to make the roster is to do the latter, but he still has a shot as a cornerback if he continues to make plays.

The position stacks up like this. The Packers have traditionally kept six cornerbacks under Mike McCarthy. Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams are the starters. Brandon Underwood is leading the charge for the nickel slot and Pat Lee is the likely dime back. When Al Harris is healthy, he’s also guaranteed a roster spot.

That leaves one slot for Shields, Jarrett Bush and D.J. Clark.

Although Bush is atrocious on defense, the Packers like him on special teams. He lined up with the No. 1 kickoff and kickoff return units on Monday.

Shields’ potential as a cornerback is clearly greater than Bush’s, but he’s probably a full year away from fully grasping how to play the position at the NFL level. Sure, the sixth cornerback rarely plays if everyone remains healthy, but the Packers may not be comfortable taking that chance with Shields. When Harris and Will Blackmon went down with injuries last year, the Packers were forced to use Bush and that didn’t turn out well at all.

Shields may have more talent than Bush, but Bush has quite a bit more experience.

If the Packers release Shields and try to sneak him onto the practice squad, they face a very real chance of losing him.

Detroit, which is cornerback poor and going nowhere this year, was interested in Shields after the draft and could easily find a roster spot for him.

Unless Shields distinguishes himself on special teams in the next few weeks, the Packers have a very tough decision to make. Right now, it looks like Shields chances are about 50/50.

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