Embarrassment motivates Packers Sam Shields to improve his tackling

Green Bay - Back home in South Florida, there are a lot of Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans. Too many. Pulling no punches, friends made sure Sam Shields didn't forget his sorry attempt at contact.

You know the play. Tampa Bay running back LaGarrette Blount ripping through eight Green Bay defenders was the ultimate lowlight for the unit last season. Only, Blount didn't need to steamroll Shields. On the touchdown run, Shields approached the 247-pound back, had a point-blank chance at tackling him and ... barely laid a finger on him.

Friends didn't let Shields off the hook. Ten people? Twenty?

"A lot of cats were talking," Shields said. He lost count.

"It's motivation. You hear guys talking, 'Why didn't you do this? Why didn't you do that?' he said. "I just listen to it. I know what I have to do. They're not playing. I'm playing."

Shields had no comeback for them. The film spoke for itself. In 2011, the Packers cornerback played too soft, missed too many tackles. So now in training camp, he has been demoted. Veteran Jarrett Bush - not Shields - is lining up with the No. 1 defense at cornerback opposite Tramon Williams.

Considering Bush's limitations in man coverage, it's tough to see him winning the job. Still, it's a blaring wake-up call for Shields.

He is motivated by the coaches' decision.

"Most definitely," he said. "There's competition with everything. You could be up one time, down another time. You never know."

Possibly no player regressed more on defense than Shields in 2011. Two years ago, the undrafted Shields was a playoff hero - his two interceptions in the NFC Championship Game lifted Green Bay to the Super Bowl. Last season, he finished with 36 tackles, four interceptions, 14 pass breakups and many headaches. His speed is unquestioned. Beat in coverage at times, Shields was able to close fast to make plays.

But sloppy fundamentals and shoddy tackling plagued Shields throughout the season. By the postseason, he was benched.

This summer, cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr. told Shields he must play with more physicality. Above all, his tackling must improve.

"When running backs or receivers break out, you just need to come in and tackle," Shields said. "It's just getting into that routine so when the game time comes, you're used to it. So that's the thing Coach Whitt told me to keep doing."

Sitting on a table in the Packers locker room Friday, Shields jolts up to demonstrate. "Tagging off," he calls it. This is how he must tackle in 2012. He lifts his arms out and pretends to wrap up at someone's ankles. Too often last season, Shields threw a shoulder at a running back or receiver. Before his senior year at Miami (Fla.), he never played defense, period.

Shields has replayed the string of missed tackles - including that Blount run - in the film room. The embarrassment soaked in.

"Yeah, I've seen them," he said. "I go back and watch them. And most of the tackles that I did miss, it was me not bringing my arms around. Wrapping up. I just tried to go in like that with my shoulder - not wrapping up."

That's something Bush can do. The seventh-year cornerback has endeared himself to coaches and management alike with his all-out practice habits, gritty playing style and value on special teams.

When push comes to shove, there's no ignoring Bush's obvious deficiencies. Leaving Bush isolated on any receiver remains a hold-your-breath proposition. On Thursday, James Jones caught one lob over Bush's head with the cornerback's back turned. Bush will be pushed by Shields, second-year cornerback Davon House and rookie Casey Hayward.

He says he's "up for a good challenge." Bush and Shields have different, distinctive skill sets.

"Sam is very talented, very fast. Speed is his forte," Bush said. "And I have other strengths also. Obviously I'm here for a reason. I stuck around for a reason. That's what makes us unique, that's what makes us good."

Further, Shields admits teams probably studied him on film. He realizes now his eyes gave too much away. In 2011, Shields was caught peeking into the backfield. This year, he hopes to eliminate this bad habit.

He believes he's still the track-speed playmaker of 2010. When asked if the Shields of that conference title game will resurface, the 24-year-old appears irritated.

"I mean, that never went anywhere," he said. "I don't think it went anywhere. There are certain things I just have to work on. . . . It hasn't went anywhere. I'm telling you."

Contrary to what that Blount highlight may say, Shields vows he's not "scared" to tackle. The pads come on Saturday. If Shields pushes the limit, if he starts crossing the line, that's probably a good thing.

And one month from now, Shields hopes to earn his spot back.

"I want to be that guy," Shields said. "I just have to keep working and keep doing my job each day."

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