Packers Mike Daniels and Datone Jones Revamped
Packers cornerback Davon House breaks up a pass intended for Rams receiver Stedman Bailey on Saturday.
At 6 feet and 195 pounds, he's got the arm length and the strength to press bigger receivers, and since the coaches give the cornerbacks some freedom whether to press or play off, House usually chooses press.
However, this training camp House is choosing to play off receivers more for what might be the most practical reason a player can think of. He wants to be on the field more.
"For me to, let me say, see more playing time, I need to get picks," House said. "In press, they don't like to throw the ball as much and if they do it's usually a comeback or a fade or sometimes it's a slant.
"Slants are really hard to pick off (in press). Comebacks are hard to pick off and fade balls the quarterback is going to throw it to where only he (the receiver) can catch it or incomplete."
When he's playing 5 or 6 yards off the receiver, House said, it is easier to track the ball.
"Playing off, you can see the ball thrown," he said. "You're encouraging slants where you can actually jump in front of it. You can run with a fade and locate the ball and pick off a comeback. So, for me to get to more balls I'm going to have to play off more."
Competition for playing time in the secondary is fierce withTramon Williams and Sam Shields locked into starting spots and House, Casey Hayward and Micah Hyde all in the mix to play in the nickel and dime personnel groups.
Lately, Hayward has been playing in the slot in the nickel and Hyde and Williams have been playing in the slot in the dime with House taking over Williams' usual spot on the outside. House and Hayward are completely different kinds of cornerbacks, so their playing time could depend on matchups.
Hayward led the team in interceptions his rookie season two years ago and made it so the coaches felt they had to have him on the field. House would like to force his way onto the field with similar game-changing production.
He had his first interception last year against Cleveland'sBrandon Weeden.
Though he'll be playing off more this season, House probably will still be called upon to go toe-to-toe with big, physical outside receivers like the New York Jets' Eric Decker, Chicago's Alshon Jeffery, Detroit's Golden Tate and Minnesota's Cordarrelle Patterson.
"I feel like I can," House said of shutting down that type of receiver. "I feel like I did a good job against (Michael) Crabtree, who's a bigger guy. I did a good job against Josh Gordon, who's a bigger guy. I personally feel like I can play against the bigger receivers."
Raji's move: The exhibition games mean different things to different veterans. For B.J. Raji, it's about relearning nose tackle. After inking Raji to a one-year, prove-it deal, the Packers slid him back inside in their 3-4 base defense.
The Packers are hoping the Raji of 2010 returns in the process.
On Monday, Raji indicated it's a process. Playing a different team helps.
"In practice in training camp, I'm used to seeing one scheme," Raji said. "But through the season, we practice one way but our opponent plays another way. So I think it's been good to play against teams who do different things up front, as far as blocking schemes to get my instincts and my thinking back into mode."
That revamped front of Raji, Mike Daniels and Datone Jones held Zac Stacy — the St. Louis Rams' 2013 leading rusher who had 973 yards and seven touchdowns — to 6 yards on six carries. Raji mostly occupied blockers, at times redirecting Stacy's path.
"It feels like everything is starting to slowly come back to me," Raji said. "Because when you're down inside, everything happens so much faster. So you have to keep your head up, eyes up and your pads down. The more games I play, the more comfortable I'll get."
Possibly, Raji's 6-2, 337-pound frame can clog the lanes and the athletic Daniels and Jones will work off that.
Of course, Raji also will be wanting to make more plays himself at the position he held during the Super Bowl run. Last season, he had a career-low 17 tackles (12 solo) and no sacks. At defensive end, his numbers dipped, yet as Raji said in May he didn't see a need to speak up since the Packers were winning the NFC North three straight years.
Now, he'll be working against a smaller offensive lineman more often.
"By design, centers typically have to be more athletic because they have to step in, snap the ball, so you really don't have a lot of big, big guys at center," Raji said. "Some guys are bigger than others. But typically, centers are quicker, smarter guys who just have a sense for the offense calling protections. They're generally not the biggest guys."
And that's good for him, right?
"Hopefully, hopefully," he said.
Thumb's up: In his first extensive game action since finishing 2013 on injured reserve with a broken thumb, outside linebacker Clay Matthews passed his first test. He stayed healthy. He's not worrying about the thumb.
Matthews used a spin move to beat No. 2 overall pick Greg Robinson onone play and tried not to think about the digit that gave him so much trouble last season.
"Definitely took a step in the right direction," Matthews said. "As I've said before, this preseason has been a little more integral as far as my play, just because getting the mental confidence to go back out there, throw my hand around, throw my body around and feel good about that.
"The football, it'll fall into place exactly how I anticipated, just making steps from the first step to this week, I anticipated going into this next week.
"I feel good about it. I think by the time the season rolls around, I'll be flying out there and making plays and having fun. That's what I'm doing now, but just a little more crisp."
Not panicking: If Tennessee was a major step forward for tackle Derek Sherrod, St. Louis was a major step back. The former first-round pick struggled mightily on the Rams' fast surface, raising concerns about the contingency plan behind starters Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari.
But if the sky's falling in fans' views, it's not with the team, coach Mike McCarthy said.
"Well, the sky's not falling," McCarthy said. "We have two more weeks to get ready for the season. Derek Sherrod did a lot of good things. He had a couple plays that he obviously wished he could have back but, nah, I think we're progressing fine there."
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