Green Bay's Casey Hayward has started nine games through his first three NFL seasons. Last season, Hayward was on the field for 40 percent of the Packers' defensive snaps, leaving him hungry for more in 2015.
Chris Humphreys/Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Casey Hayward has not made it a secret how badly he wants to earn a full-time starting outside cornerback spot with the Green Bay Packers this upcoming season. The free-agent departures of Tramon Williams and Davon House made that a very realistic goal for him.
However, Hayward doesn’t want to stop there.
"Not just be the starting corner, be the No. 1 corner," Hayward said.
Hayward has started nine games through his first three NFL seasons, with seven of those starts coming as a rookie. A hamstring injury derailed Hayward’s progress in 2013 and held him to just 88 snaps. Last season, Hayward was on the field for 40 percent of the Packers’ defensive snaps, but most of his work came in the slot.
With an opportunity for more playing time awaiting him, Hayward is aiming for greatness.
"No doubt; that’s my whole goal," Hayward said. "Not just being a starting corner, I want to be one of those elite guys and be able to guard the No. 1 (wide receivers)."
Accomplishing that would mean sixth-year cornerback Sam Shields would be taking a backseat.
Shields signed a four-year, $39 million contract in 2014. Williams now being a member of the Cleveland Browns and House signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars seemingly guaranteed Shields the chance to be the one most frequently standing across from the opposing team’s top wideout on game day.
Even in its early stages, though, Hayward and Shields have crafted a healthy, competitive relationship.
"I think the good thing about with me and Sam, and the rest of the guys, we push each other," Hayward said. "He wants to be that No. 1 corner, I want to be that No. 1 corner. When we’re pushing each other, why not have two No. 1 corners that can stay on each side. I think that’s the ultimate goal."
Hayward is dealing with a foot injury and is unable to compete throughout organized team activities. Being ready for minicamp in mid-June might be a stretch, too.
He declined to say whether it would require surgery at any point. Hayward also didn’t specify how the injury occurred, other than saying it "just randomly popped up" and that it didn’t happen while training.
"I’ve been pretty limited most of the offseason," Hayward said. "It’s gradually getting better. As long as I keep progressing, I’ll be full-go for (training) camp (in late July)."
Some might view the injury as a setback for Hayward. With lofty goals placed upon himself, any time missed could affect his ability to achieve what he’s set out to do.
Hayward doesn’t agree with that notion.
"I don’t think it’ll set me back at all," he said. "I know what type of player I am, they know what type of player I am. When I’m on the field, I make tons of plays."
Nine interceptions and 28 passes defensed are terrific numbers for a cornerback who, according to data from ProFootballFocus, has only been targeted in coverage 115 times in his career.
"If Casey’s healthy, and he’s playing like he can play, I think he’s going to have a fine year," cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. "I have 100 percent confidence in Casey. I am excited to see him play."
Whitt added of Hayward, "He’s the least of my worries right now."
Hayward and Whitt both downplayed the transition of going from being primarily a slot corner to playing outside on what could be an every-snap basis.
"Everybody else makes more of a deal of it than it is," Whitt said. "The kid’s a football player. He can play outside, he can play inside. He can do what we ask him to do. Everybody talks about that he can’t do this or that or the third, but I haven’t seen him give up a lot of stuff outside when he’s played outside."
Added Hayward: "It’s nothing new. It’s going to be a little transition mentally, but I think this is going to be smooth sailing for me, and I’ll be fine."
Hayward expects to still be moved inside at times.
"It’s not set in stone what anybody’s role is going to be, but I’m pretty sure they still would want me to play some inside with the way I’ve been playing," he said.
There’s pressure on Hayward to deliver on his goals. This is a contract year for him. He just watched as the Packers failed to bring back Williams and House, and he doesn’t want to be the next one on his way out of town.
Shields was in this situation two years ago, when he was playing for a new contract. He’s already giving Hayward advice as the process towards making a lot more money begins.
"Whatever you lack in the previous years, correct that, get that right," Shields said. "Because just that one little thing cannot get you paid. Just do what you’ve been doing, not letting that get to your head. Just play football, that’s what you’re here for."