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A call for defense as Packers add lineman, cornerback

This news story was published on April 28, 2012.
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By Bob McGinn, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel –

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Two unanswered questions hung in the air Friday night that ultimately will tell the story of the Green Bay Packers’ two second-round selections in the National Football League draft.

Will defensive lineman Jerel Worthy display the work ethic and consistency that he didn’t always show at Michigan State and fulfill his considerable potential?

Does Vanderbilt’s Corey Hayward have enough speed to be more than a nickel back in the NFL?

Combined with the first-round pick of outside linebacker Nick Perry on Thursday, the Packers drafted defensive players with their first three selections for the first time since Ahmad Carroll, Joey Thomas and Donnell Washington arrived in 2004.

“We feel we’ve added good young players at all three levels of the defense,” coordinator Dom Capers said. “I think the way we’ve picked these players was pretty true to what our board was.”

Worthy, 6 feet 21/2 inches and 305 pounds, bears a physical resemblance to the Ryan Pickett who entered the NFL as a first-round draft choice in 2001. He isn’t nearly as stout against the run as Pickett but has more talent to penetrate and rush the passer.

Given the Packers’ acute shortage at the position, Worthy could start at right defensive end in the base 3-4 and see extensive duty on nickel downs in the job that departed Cullen Jenkins filled with distinction in 2010.

“He’s a very instinctive player and is very quick off the ball,” general manager Ted Thompson said. “He has a natural ability to see things in traffic and come off blocks.”

Thompson was waiting patiently late in the second round with pick No. 59, no doubt looking for players to replenish one of the league’s poorest and least talented defenses. But when San Diego used its 49th selection on Connecticut’s Kendall Reyes, the fifth 3-4 defensive end taken in the draft, Thompson sprang into action.

He made the deal with the Eagles, obtaining the No. 51 selection in return for No. 59 and one of his three fourth-round picks (No. 123).

Also on the board at the time was Penn State’s Devon Still, an even bigger end who eventually would be taken No. 53 by Cincinnati, and center Peter Konz of Wisconsin, who went No. 55 to Atlanta.

It was obvious that Thompson didn’t want to endure another season watching Jarius Wynn, C.J. Wilson, Mike Neal and Howard Green either starting or playing extensively at defensive end.

“You had Reyes, Still and Worthy lumped together, and soon as the first one went you knew the other ones were going to go,” said Mike Trgovac, the defensive line coach. “Obviously Ted made a trade, so he wanted to make sure that he got one of those guys.”

The Packers have been trying to get taller, longer players at end since moving to the 3-4 in 2009. Still (6-5, 301) and Reyes (6-4, 299) would have given them that, but the squattier Worthy does not.

Besides height, what was the difference between Still and Worthy?

“That one was debated long and hard,” Trgovac said. “It wasn’t a slam dunk. We just thought at the end (Worthy) had a little more of that wiggle and get-off than Still. We liked both those kids.”

Still and Worthy each ranked among the top five vote-getters in a Journal Sentinel poll asking scouts to name the most likely D-lineman to bust. Each was rapped for inconsistencies in effort and performance.

“He’s a young kid and, naturally, he’ll mature when he gets around mature men,” said Shaun Herock, who scouts the Midwest for Green Bay. “I’m not going to say he’s immature or anything like that . . . all his teammates like him, and he’s just got an up-beat sense about him.”

A fourth-year junior, Worthy started all but two games from 2009-’11 and registered 12 sacks and 271/2 tackles for loss. When he wants to, he can bring it.

“He’s got a real knack for being able to freeze guys and get his hips around,” said Trgovac. “He anticipates the snap very well. Sometimes he gets off-sides, I realize that. We’ll have to work on that.”

An hour later, Thompson consummated another trade, this time with New England, in which the Packers charged ahead for another defender.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick, presumably desperate for an additional choice to replenish his thin draft reserves, allowed Thompson to take his second-round pick (No. 62) in exchange for a third-rounder (No. 90) and a fifth-rounder (No. 163).

Hayward (5-111/2, 193) became just the second cornerback taken since the 17th pick, and the fifth in all. Earlier this month, the Journal Sentinel polled 21 scouts and Hayward tied for 11th place among cornerbacks with just one vote.

“We had him rated as a very good corner in this draft,” Thompson said. “I think he’s an all-around player. Very aware in space, very good foot athlete, good balance, good pedal, can plant and close. Sees the ball well . . . got good hands and a knack for interceptions. Pretty good tackler.”

Other available cornerbacks, all of whom finished far ahead of Hayward in the poll, were Jayron Hosley, Josh Robinson, Trumaine Johnson, Dwight Bentley and Jamell Fleming.

Every one of those players with the exception of Johnson, the tallest corner in the draft at 6-2, ran a faster 40-yard dash time than Hayward’s 4.52.

A number of scouts said they loved Hayward’s resourcefulness and ball skills but feared speed would limit his career.

“Everybody is worried about his deep speed,” an AFC personnel man said. “He can play in Cover 2. He will be a serviceable nickel corner.”

Cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said Hayward’s primary attribute was ball skills. His 15 interceptions as a three-year starter was the most by a player in the Southeastern Conference since Corey Webster had 16 from 2001-’04.

“He’s just a mature football player at a young age,” said Whitt. “He’s constantly bringing his teammates up, constantly making plays. He understands his limitations and understands what he does well.”

None of Green Bay’s top three cornerbacks — Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields — played as well last season as they did in 2010. Jarrett Bush and Davon House also return, but Hayward finds himself in a promising situation.

“He understands zone coverages, he can play man, he can get up there and press, he can play off,” Whitt said. “He’s a willing tackler. He’s extremely smart. He has a complete game.”

Now it remains to be seen if Hayward’s average speed will enable him to challenge the better receivers that he’ll soon be encountering.

“They’re putting four wide receivers, sometimes five out there,” said Capers. “That’s just the nature of the game nowadays. If you can’t cover them, you’re going to be in for a long day.”

Thirteen picks after Hayward, the Seattle Seahawks took Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson in the third round. Some personnel people in the league said Wilson was highly regarded if not coveted by the Packers to be Aaron Rodgers’ backup.

“We think Russell Wilson’s a very good player,” said Thompson. “We think Seattle made a wise choice in picking him.”

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