Casey Hayward extended for a one-handed interception at the Packers' minicamp Tuesday, looking nothing like a player who had missed nearly a season to injury.
Green Bay would like to see their young cornerback making those big plays again this fall.
The secondary was restocked this spring with rookie safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix drafted in the first round and third-year corner Hayward back on the field after playing just three games in 2013. Coach Mike McCarthy hopes they can be key contributors in a defensive resurgence.
"Every time Case is on the field, you can feel his presence. He's a very competitive, very instinctive exceptional athlete. Ball skills — you could put him on offense," McCarthy said.
Hayward didn't have an interception last year after leading NFL rookies the previous season with a team-high six picks. Getting him back full time would solidify a cornerback position led by veterans Tramon Williams and Sam Shields.
Micah Hyde, a fifth-round pick last year, has been getting time at safety in offseason workouts, along with Clinton-Dix, opposite returnee Morgan Burnett. A starting spot is available there after last year's starter, M.D. Jennings, left as a free agent for the NFC North rival Bears following a disappointing season.
"I'm a utility player. If a D-lineman goes out, I'm going to take that position. I'll try to put on a little bit of weight," Hyde said Tuesday. "But no, I literally, I'm a defensive back. Whatever position is needed, I'm going to try to help out and do the best I can."
The Packers didn't get an interception from the safety position last year. McCarthy, in general, has hoped to find more impact players on defense, while also limiting injuries. Part of his solution this offseason has been an attempt to simplify the defensive schemes somewhat to get more players up to speed on covering different roles, if necessary.
"We're where we need to be right now," McCarthy said. "I feel very good about our defense. We have never been this far as far as the mental consistency."
The "less scheme, more personnel" plan has helped younger guys pick things up quicker, Williams said, though it hasn't changed his approach.
"Not really that much of a difference for me. For me, you have to always find things to work on," said Williams, entering his eighth season. "I think that's what makes guys great, when you feel like you know it all. You know exactly what's going on, but you can still find more to do to get better."
This might be especially true for Hayward, hampered by a hamstring injury during a 2013 campaign that tested his patience.
He said he studied the game while sidelined and even helped then-rookies like Hyde pick things up. Hayward has described himself as being "90 percent" back this offseason from the injury, with the goal of being 100 percent once training camp starts in late July.
Hayward sure seemed OK after leaping to grab that interception Tuesday.
"He had time to sit back and become a student of the game in his time off. You hate for missing time doing it, but sometimes you know that's what helps you out a lot, just sitting back and watching," Williams said. "He's been doing that, you can see it in his game, you can see it in the meeting room."
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