Rams’ Shields back in pads nearly 2 years after concussion
IRVINE, Calif. (AP) — Sam Shields thought hard about quitting football during his darkest, saddest days at home in South Florida over the past two years.
As a former undrafted free agent who became a Pro Bowl cornerback and a Super Bowl champion with Green Bay, Shields knows all about overcoming tremendous odds. Four recorded concussions and the ensuing months of agonizing headaches were a daunting obstacle to be surmounted — and moreover, he wasn’t even sure if he should.
With the support of his friends and family, Shields eventually decided he couldn’t just stop. He had to play again, and he’s taking a shot with the Los Angeles Rams.
“I have a tough mind,” Shields said after stepping off the practice field at UC Irvine in full pads. “I’m not going to lie. I guess that’s just a gift that I have, and that’s an important thing on your body. I’ve been through a lot. I took time off, and now I’m here and I’m doing a hell of a job.”
Shields wore pads Sunday for the first time since Sept. 11, 2016, when he suffered the final concussion that kept him out of football for nearly two full seasons. He is already drawing attention during the first few days of camp with the defending NFC West champion Rams, who added him to a well-stocked defensive secondary last March while allowing him to recapture his career.
Shields is 30 years old now, but his body is completely healthy, and he says his mind is clear. In fact, his biggest physical obstacles these days are the braces on the back of his teeth, slightly altering his speech.
He realizes the odds he’s facing, and he isn’t naive about the potentially catastrophic damage from another major head injury. Shields still wants to be part of a team again after seven seasons with the Packers, who cut him in February 2017.
“I had a year and a half to think about it, to be with my family,” Shields said. “So I definitely had enough time to think about it, and I think I made the right choice.”
Shields’ teammates and coaches with the Rams are already impressed by the former University of Miami receiver who transitioned to defense as a senior and then carved out an NFL career on the strength of his speed and will.
The Rams also know how perilous Shields’ health could be.
“He’s doing a great job,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “I think people forget what a productive player Sam has been in this league. Elite man-to-man skills, unbelievable lateral agility and just short-space quickness. He’s a great guy. ... Really happy for him. We’re hoping he’s able to stay healthy.”
Shields had become an elite defensive back during his career in Green Bay. He had 18 interceptions with the Packers across 80 games, including 62 starts.
He made two tackles while the Packers won the Super Bowl in February 2011 to cap his rookie season. Several months after earning a $39 million contract from the Packers in 2014, he was chosen for the Pro Bowl.
But he missed four games in 2015 due to concussions, and he suffered that fourth concussion in the 2016 season opener against Jacksonville. He hasn’t played football since.
Shields was beset by headaches in the months after his most recent concussion, enduring blinding pain and light sensitivity. He traveled around the country for help, eventually spending six months getting treatment at UCLA.
When the headaches dissipated, his desire to play came flooding back.
“I felt better just out of nowhere,” he said. “It was crazy, and I started, just like, ‘Let’s go work out.’ And I worked out. Felt fine that morning. I kept going out there, and that’s when I knew I was finally all right.”
Shields said his biggest current challenge is getting his body back in football shape, and getting rid of “soreness in different spots that I haven’t moved in a while.” The Rams haven’t done any major hitting yet, but their first preseason game is Aug. 9 at Baltimore.
Ever since he joined the Rams, Shields has repeatedly said he isn’t fooling himself about what could happen. He wants another shot anyway.
“It’s a blessing,” Shields said. “Two, almost 2 1/2 years out, I mean, it’s hard mentally for anybody to be able to come back, put these pads on. But I’m just happy to be here with my brothers. That’s the most important part.”