A Key at Cornerback: Replacing Williams

Bill Huber

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Tramon Williams was the oldest starting defensive back in the NFL last season. He played so well that he even received one vote to the prestigious All-Pro team. Having turned 37 in March, he’d like to play in 2020 – preferably with the Green Bay Packers or, at the least, another contender.

For now, he remains unsigned, which means the Packers will enter training camp needing a new starter in the slot. The front-runner appears to be Chandon Sullivan. Sullivan went undrafted in 2018 and played in a handful of games at the end of his rookie season with the Eagles. Philadelphia released him after the 2019 draft and the Packers quickly grabbed him.

It was one of GM Brian Gutekunst’s understated moves. Over the final 12 regular-season games, Sullivan played 20-plus snaps in 10 games and 35-plus snaps in five games. According to Sports Info Solutions, Sullivan allowed a scant 6-of-21 passing for 74 yards with one interception and five breakups. In other words, he almost got his hands on as many footballs as the receivers he was covering.

“Chandon Sullivan did a really, really nice job for us the times he had to go in there last year,” general manager Brian Gutekunst said.

Late last season, with former second-round pick Josh Jackson stuck on the bench (just 103 snaps), defensive coordinator Mike Pettine mentioned the slot could be Jackson’s best spot.

“Part of it, too, is just us trying to find a permanent home for him,” Pettine said when asked about Jackson’s infrequent playing time. “Like, do we want him as an outside corner? He showed a lot of progress this offseason and the beginning of the year playing the nickel for us. That’s probably, ultimately, his best spot, which obviously Tramon’s entrenched there now. But he’s a versatile guy. He want to avoid him becoming the cliché, the jack of all trades master of none. He can play a little safety, he can play a little outside, he can play a little nickel. We want to find that permanent home for him.”

Gutekunst also mentioned top cornerback Jaire Alexander and safety Darnell Savage as options. As a rookie, Alexander allowed a 70.5 passer rating in 112 slot-coverage snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Last year, he allowed a 157.5 rating in 38 slot-coverage snaps. For a long shot, seventh-round safety Vernon Scott exceled in slot duty late last season at TCU.

Or, maybe the Packers can give Williams a call. Last season, according to PFF, 30 corners played at least 200 coverage snaps in the slot. Williams ranked eighth with 0.92 yards allowed per coverage snap and second with 14.3 coverage snaps per reception. Williams can still run and he seems impervious to injury.

“When I watched the tape, I seen Tramon do it, I seen Sullivan do it. I went back even two years ago, I seen Jai in there,” new defensive backs coach Jerry Gray said. “I talked to Kevin (King), Kevin said, ‘Coach, I want to get in there,’ so I’ve got a lot of guys who are fighting to get in. But the biggest thing we’ve got to do is wait until we get out on the football field. Because I don’t want to eliminate any guys and say, ‘Hey, look, you can’t do it.’ Because really, all I’ve seen is film. I really don’t know how they process what happens when you get out in the sun and not in the air conditioning.”

A KEY AT EACH POSITION

Quarterback: Too many incompletions

Receiver: Too many drops

Running back: How will the carries be divided?

Tight end: For starters, it’s Sternberger

Offensive line: Wagner vs. stud pass rushers

Defensive line: Fixing the run defense

Outside linebacker: It’s Gary time

Inside linebacker: Kirksey's health

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