GREEN BAY – In his head, beneath those flowing dreadlocks and behind those deep brown eyes, it all makes sense to Davon House. To him, football is about playing with confidence, and playing in fear. Believing in himself, and knowing that at any second, he could be summoned to Ted Thompson’s office to be pink-slipped.
“For me, I use both. I use more of (the fear of) me getting cut more than me being confident,” the Green Bay Packers second-year cornerback said Tuesday, after spending the entirety of the team’s fifth training-camp practice with the starters – in the base defense and nickel and dime sub packages.
“I don’t want to be too confident and not making any plays. I’d rather be thinking, ‘Every day, I’m out here fighting for my job. Tomorrow, I could have a note in my locker saying, Come to the office.’ I don’t want that at all. Especially leaving Green Bay. I don’t want to go to any other team. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I love it.”
And right now, the Packers love what they’re seeing from him. After a rookie season he calls “a waste,” House has made the strongest impression among a group of cornerbacks who’ve all gotten off to strong starts. The same 32nd-ranked defense that had to choose between a regressing player (Sam Shields) and a player better suited for special teams (Jarrett Bush) last year as its No. 3 cornerback now finds itself with a host of choices a week into training camp. From a resurgent Bush to impressive rookie second-round pick Casey Hayward to House, the competition is heating up.
And at the moment, the pick is House. With back-to-back strong practices on Saturday and Monday, House found himself working with the starters on Tuesday morning, and he did not disappoint. While his day wasn’t chock-full of impression-making plays like his two-interception day on Monday, he more than held his own in the same secondary as likely future Pro Football Hall of Famer Charles Woodson and returning-to-form shutdown corner Tramon Williams.
“There’s no starting jobs that are being won today. We are installing some players, are performing better than others,” said coach Mike McCarthy, trying his best to tamp down any possible runaway expectations. “House is definitely an improved player from last year. We talked about that after (Monday’s) practice. I like what he’s doing. He’s extremely physical. If you look at the way with his body structure he should be a very good bump-and-run player, and he’s playing to that strength right now. He’s off to a good camp. He’s clearly a different player this year than he was last year.”
Last year? If you weren’t following closely, you probably didn’t notice House was even on the team last year. He played in just two games, didn’t see a single snap of action on defense and essentially took a medical redshirt after suffering a hamstring injury early in camp and an ankle injury at the end of it. A fourth-round pick from New Mexico State, the 6-foot, 195-pound House wondered if he even belonged.
“Where my confidence is now is nowhere near where it was last year. Last year, I kind of … I guess you could say I doubted my ability, if I could play at this level,” House said. “I think the reason I got down on myself was, I was hurt, and I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do. I couldn’t run with the receivers like I wanted to run with them, I couldn’t get in and out of breaks the way I wanted to.
“I felt like I was a waste of a pick last year. I didn’t help the team at all, was hurt the whole year, I was only a fourth-round draft pick. And then when we drafted Casey, I was like, ‘Man, what’s in store for me?’”
It would appear, big things. While Hayward has had impressive moments as well, it’s House that cracked the starting lineup, leapfrogging first over Shields (whom both he and Hayward temporarily replaced in the dime defense as the No. 4 corner on Saturday), then Bush. After struggling Saturday, Shields still held the No. 4 job when the players returned to practice on Monday following an off day – until House picked off a pair of passes (including one from reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers). By the end of practice, House was in with the top dime unit.
When practice kicked off Tuesday, he was with the starters full-time. It marked a rapid rise when cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt called his name.
“I practiced with the 4s last year (in camp), then OTAs with the 3s, then (the start of) camp with the 2s, and next thing you know, your name is called for the 1s,” House said. “And you’re like, ‘Oh, dang, I’m a starter right now.’”
“I love what I’ve seen from him so far,” Williams said after practice. “That’s something that we knew that he had. We kind of had to get him out of his lackadaisical mode a little bit. But he looks good. He looks like what we thought he could look like. He’s getting the opportunity to show that. It’s up to him to hold onto it.”
Which is where House’s challenging tightrope walk between confident and concerned comes in. Both McCarthy (“They’re all in the picture”) and Thompson (“We’re a long way from figuring it all out”) made it very clear that the competition is far from over a week before the first preseason game, but McCarthy also emphasized that House has put himself in position to win it if he continues to “stack successes,” a popular McCarthy catchphrase.
“When a player is in the process of growth, confidence is such a key ingredient for him to continue to move forward. You can see (House) being more confident and giving him more opportunities to build that confidence is being rewarded for how he’s practicing,” McCarthy said. “Once again, we have a long way to go.”
Here’s a fascinating glimpse into House’s thought process: Asked to assess where he stood after practice Tuesday, he replied, “It’s going good. I know that I’m still not where I need to be to really help this defense out the way I want to help it. I feel like I can start in this league, but I have to do it on an everyday basis. Not just do it, have two picks one day and the other day give up six touchdowns.”
Of course, he hadn’t given up six touchdowns on Tuesday. He’d given up one, to wily veteran Donald Driver, who only happens to be the franchise’s all-time leading receiver. No matter. House couldn’t let it go.
“After that play, I kind of got down on myself a little bit. And then I looked at Tramon,” House said. “Tramon gave up a touchdown (Monday), but you can tell it didn’t bother him at all. I said to myself, ‘I just need to put it behind me and watch the film and think about it then.’
“I think it’s just my nature – and this business. This business, you can get cut any day. (Safety) Charlie Peprah started a lot of games for us, and he’s not here anymore. There’s starters all over the league that get cut. I can’t come out one day looking like a first-round draft pick and then come out the next day looking like a free-agent guy that they shouldn’t have picked up.
“I just have to do it every day. There’s more confidence to be built and more plays to be made.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.