Back in play: Rams' Sam Shields to face Green Bay friends

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — Not many defensive backs know more about Aaron Rodgers' strengths and proclivities than Sam Shields. He went against the Green Bay Packers' superstar quarterback in practice each week for seven years while they were teammates.

"Oh yeah, it was a good competition, and we enjoyed it," Shields said Wednesday, chuckling at the memories. "He would give me the side-eye, like, 'I'm coming at you,' and things like that. It helped me, it helped him."

When Shields and the unbeaten Los Angeles Rams (7-0) host the Packers (3-2-1) on Sunday, he is eager to show off everything he learned during those countless hours of hard work in northeast Wisconsin.

Moreover, Shields is simply grateful to be healthy enough to do it.

Over two years after his fourth concussion put a premature end to his tenure in Green Bay, Shields is back in the league as a key member of the Rams' secondary and special teams. He made his first interception since 2015 during his second game with LA, and he is playing a steady complementary role on the Rams' star-studded defense.

The Packers are happy and proud — even if they would prefer Shields doesn't do anything extraordinary against them at the Coliseum.

"He's a fantastic player," Rodgers said. "Just keeping in touch with him during his time away after the injury in Jacksonville, this is what he wanted. He wanted to come back. He wanted to come back (with Green Bay). But I'm happy he's playing. I'm happy he's feeling great. He's having no issues with his head. He's a fantastic guy, was a great teammate for us, and a big-time player for a number of years."

Shields won a Super Bowl, made 18 interceptions, started 62 games and earned a Pro Bowl berth during his tenure in Green Bay. His growth into a solid NFL cornerback was remarkable after he joined the Packers as an undrafted free agent in 2010.

But his concussion in the Packers' 2016 season opener at Jacksonville kept him out for the rest of that year, and he sat out all of 2017 after Green Bay cut him. He seriously considered retirement during his absence.

"I'm happy he is (back)," said Packers receiver Davante Adams, who missed the final two games of last season with a concussion. "I can't say I'm surprised, just because it's serious. Those things can be serious, but you never know how a guy is feeling. You can always change. I've been down that path, but didn't have any lingering effects like he did."

Shields endured months of painful headaches before getting lengthy treatment at UCLA and a few months of rest at home in South Florida. Once his head felt better, he was determined to return to the camaraderie and excitement of a team, and the Rams gave him the chance.

"I feel great," Shields said. "I feel blessed just to put my feet back on the ground, man. And being in this locker room with my brothers, that's always feeling good, feeling happy. I've been taking it one day at a time, and everything has been getting better each day."

The Rams haven't played the Packers since 2015, and Shields has plenty of information on Rodgers to share with his teammates. Along with all that practice work, Shields spent years watching on Sundays as Rodgers took advantage of mismatches or tricked opponents into jumping offside with his cadence.

"The little mistakes, he sees those and capitalizes on them," Shields said.

Shields is playing slightly less than half of the Rams' defensive snaps in recent weeks, and he plays extensively on special teams. Los Angeles cornerbacks Marcus Peters, Nickell Robey-Coleman and Troy Hill take many of the Rams' coverage assignments, but Shields also draws his share.

More importantly, he is a part of the team again — which is all he really wanted.

"I think Sam looks good," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "It's good to see him healthy out there playing. He's been playing a lot of snaps, primarily in their sub packages. He's done a good job. He's moving well like he always has. I'm happy for Sam."


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