Sam Shields wants to play at higher level

Green Bay — This one play defined Sam Shields' 2013 season and, really, his career.

He was beat. The goat. Wide receiver Miles Austin had a step on the Green Bay Packers cornerback with nothing but green acreage and a key NFC win ahead. Shields closed, picked off Tony Romo and the Packers completed the comeback.

So it begs a financial question: If Shields does surrender that touchdown, if the Packers do lose that game, does he get every penny of that four-year, $39 million deal that came three months later?

"I don't know about that," Shields says, smiling. "Luckily, it didn't happen. Because they would have got a first down and all that bad stuff would have happened. I made a play, something to help us win and that's what we needed."

He made the play and got paid. Now, the Packers are banking on more.

In a half-decade, Shields has evolved from ex-college wide receiver to undrafted postseason hero to the 2011 scapegoat of Green Bay's tackling woes to maturing into one of the league's top cover corners. The challenge is sustaining this all after cashing in — staying hungry.

After his best season as a pro — 61 tackles, 16 pass breakups and four interceptions in 14 games — containing Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Greg Jennings and rising Cordarrelle Patterson in the NFC North starts with Shields.

"I'll just keep playing how I've been playing," Shields said. "Everybody says that's something on me. I just let that go and keep playing how I've been playing."
Through the contract. And through what may be a new age in the NFL.

Ed Hochuli and his officiating crew littered Ray Nitschke Field with laundry on their Green Bay camp stop, making it clear that the league is cracking down even harder on illegal contact. That could mean trouble for pro cornerbacks, a position already fighting an uphill battle in this ratings-driven, player safety-driven, fantasy football-driven NFL.

Funny thing is, Green Bay's cornerbacks didn't change a thing. They stayed aggressive and Shields isn't flinching.

One reason he's not too concerned is his game isn't based on clutching and grabbing at the line. He relies on speed.

"Like I tell the guys in there, don't think about it. Just play," Shields said. "Play how you've been playing. Don't change up anything because that'll mess you up. You can't really focus on what they're going to change.

"My speed helps me out a lot. They say they're going to be tough on it but I don't get into it. Just keep playing what you've been doing."

Shields points to the undrafted fire (still) burning inside. He carries that with him to this day, remembering that he was once a needle in the camp-roster haystack.

Teammate Davon House brought up a recent conversation he had with Shields. The two discussed "playing forever." Greatness. He doesn't see Shields' getting complacent.

"He still has the mentality of being a free agent," House said. "With his talent, his mind-set, he wants to be the best in the league."

House points out that Shields is "still raw," too. He was predominately an offensive player his entire life, right up to that final year at Miami (Fla.) in 2009.

In a league full of shutdown cornerbacks, House can't think of another player with the 0-to-60 closing speed to make the play Shields did at Dallas.

"Some of the things he does, you can't really explain," House said. "He's truly blessed."

Shields is years removed from the hapless tackling efforts in 2011. Just watch one drill with position coach Joe Whitt Jr.

The next step for him is understanding what the other 10 players are doing on the field to better position himself for splash plays. He's fast, naturally. Now he wants to play fast, mentally. Veteran Tramon Williams helps with this.

"He's been in the league a long time," Shields said, "as far as seeing different things, as far as formations, route recognition. That comes in the film room, watching film, studying other guys, other receivers. Talking to him, it's been real helpful."

Life sure has changed since he signed that mega-deal and became the NFL's eighth-highest paid cornerback.

Suddenly, Shields has many more, ahem, "family" members.

"Not so much my teammates," Shields said. "They clown a lot as far as who has the most money. But family members change. They ask you for this. That's the biggest thing. You get a lot more calls."

And that cellphone will keep ringing, too. For four more years. Along the way, the Packers need Shields to keep ascending as a player.

impact fact
Last season was Shields' best as a pro, with 61 tackles, 16 pass breakups and four interceptions in 14 games.

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