Charles Woodson lined up at safety in the team's base alignment, a defense used 25% of the time last season. But in the team's nickel package -- which Dom Capers used much more often -- Woodson slid down into the slot and M.D. Jennings was with the No. 1 defense at safety. For now, Jarrett Bush ran with the starters at right cornerback.Dunne opened his article with an earlier quote from Mike McCarthy, who said he doesn't talk about his players as a "starter" because it's all about how often his players are on the field. Just because they don't start the game on the field doesn't mean they won't be playing a lot.
So Woodson is the "starter" at safety, but he'll probably spend more time at cornerback. The coaches now think Bush is their 4th best defensive back, and Jennings is their No. 5. The loser here is Shields, who seemed to hold onto his nickel spot during the OTAs (of course, it seemed like Charlie Peprah was going to be the starter too), but now he'll have to play his way back onto the first team nickel defense.
The rookies aren't playing a role in this discussion, yet, but a lot can change over the course of a training camp. However, I'm not expecting much from Casey Hayward or Jerron McMillian. Though Shields himself came out of nowhere as a rookie in 2010 to become the nickel back, the Football Outsiders 2012 Almanac has a great discussion about Cowboys rookie CB Morris Claiborne, and why no one should expect great things from rookie defensive backs.
In the end, I don't see a big mistake being made. I'm no fan of Jarrett Bush, but Sam Shields played poorly last season. It's hard to make a strong case that another season from Charlie Peprah is better than giving M.D. Jennings a chance at safety. These might be marginal improvements, but they don't look like a big step back either, and Shields will still be given an opportunity to turn himself around.
The entire situation reminds me a little bit of the Baltimore Ravens, who seemingly run out a new set of starting cornerbacks every season while still having a strong pass defense. The changes in personnel don't seem to make a huge difference because their pass defense is keyed by a strong pass rush, and it might actually struggle for the first time in many seasons because of the likely absence of Terrell Suggs. On the other hand, the Packers made a big push to improve their woeful pass rush by the addition of Nick Perry. The combination of Bush and Jennings might appear to be a big improvement in 2012, if the pass rush is a lot better.