The Green Bay Packers' defense, which has been a work in progress over the last few seasons, took a major hit on Friday when it was announced by Bob McGinn and Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that cornerback Casey Hayward will miss at least a month with a recurring hamstring injury that affected him through the preseason. Head coach Mike McCarthy had said that Hayward would not play in the season opener against the San Francisco 49ers, but a source close to Hayward told McGinnn and Dunne that Hayward does not expect to play through at least the first four games of the season. Hayward first hurt his hamstring when he was working out in Atlanta in July.
The Packers have a Week 4 bye after games against the 49ers, the Washington Redskins,and the Cincinnati Bengals. They face the Detroit Lions on Oct. 6, which might be a reasonable timeframe for Hayward's return, based on the Journal-Sentinel report.
Hayward, selected in the second round out of Vanderbilt in the 2012 draft, excelled in his rookie season, intercepting six passes in 683 plays and 65 targets. He also led the team with 19 passes defensed, and ranked fifth in the NFL in Football Outsiders' Adjusted Passing Yards Allowed metric. Pro Football Focus has Hayward with a 31.1 opponent passer rating on plays where he was the primary target, by far the best in the NFL last year (Seattle's Richard Sherman was second at 40.5).
Heyward picked off a pass in the Packers' Week 3 preseason loss to Seattle, but has been observing practices since then. Rookie Micah Hyde, a fifth-round pick from Iowa, will see many more snaps in the slot while Hayward recovers. In the preseason, Hyde allowed four catches on seven targets for 37 yards and a 71.7 quarterback rating.
"He played a lot this preseason, and I thought he played pretty well," Greg Cosell of NFL Films said of Hyde in this week's Audibles Audio matchup podcast. "Because he's not a great mover, but he has good size, I think he might have an NFL future at safety." For now, Hyde will be tasked with playing the slot role in a Green Bay defense that will have its hands full with Colin Kaepernick.