- Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Since 2011, when they led the NFL with 31 interceptions, the Green Bay Packers have picked off more passes than all but one other NFL team
With 52 interceptions since the start of the 2011 season, the Packers trail only the Chicago Bears (52) in that category.
Perhaps the return of cornerback Casey Hayward, who led the Packers and all NFL rookies last season with six interceptions, can help turn that around. Hayward is expected to make his season debut on Sunday night against the Minnesota Vikings after missing the first six games because of a hamstring injury.
“I hope I can grab a couple,” Hayward said. “I don’t think it’s that we don’t have any ballhawks. I think the ball hasn’t come in our lap sometimes. Sometimes, it’s best to be lucky. We haven’t had many tipped balls. I look around the league and sometimes the ball just falls in some people’s lap. Hopefully we can get some this week.”
It remains to be seen how the Packers will integrate Hayward back into the defense. The cornerback spot is perhaps the deepest position on the team. Tramon Williams and Sam Shields have manned the outside spots in the base defense. In the nickel package, Williams has moved inside to cover the slot receiver, and Davon House replaced him. Rookie Micah Hyde also has played some in the nickel and last week replaced Jerron McMillian as the dime defensive back.
“It just gives us another option,” cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. “The more options you have and the more players you have is always good. It’s good to have him back and have him available.”
Further complicating matters is that Sunday’s game against the Vikings likely will see defensive coordinator Dom Capers play more of his base 3-4 defense in order to stop running back Adrian Peterson. That means fewer snaps for third and fourth cornerbacks.
Emptying out the notebook from the week:
Boykin’s impact: Jarrett Boykin had played 65 snaps in the first five games of the season combined. With Randall Cobb and James Jones out last week, the second-year pro made his first NFL start and more than doubled his season snap count. In 69 snaps, he caught eight passes for 103 yards and a touchdown.
“Going into the game, that’s how I felt the game was going to go,” receiver Jordy Nelson said. “He was going to get a lot of opportunities, and he did.”
Perhaps Boykin’s emergence can take some of the defensive attention away from Nelson, who last week against the Browns was shadowed by top cornerback Joe Haden. Nelson was limited to five catches for 42 yards and one touchdown.
But if not?
“Then I’ll let the rest of the guys beat ’em,” Nelson said.
Finley’s future: At some point, the Packers will have to make a decision on the future of tight end Jermichael Finley, who sustained a spinal contusion in Sunday’s game against the Browns that left him temporarily unable to move. He spent four nights in the hospital, including one in intensive care.
The Packers have a long history of not clearing players to return from neck injuries. The most recent came after Nick Collins sustained a herniated disc in 2011. At the time, Collins had two more years remaining on a three-year, $23.4 million contract extension, so the Packers had to release him when they decided not to clear him medically.
Finley’s situation is different because the two-year, $14 million contract he signed in 2012 will expire in March. If Finley doesn’t play the rest of the season, it’s possible the Packers would never have to make a medical decision. They could let his contract expire and allow him to leave in free agency, leaving it up to other teams to decide whether or not to clear him.
Hall of Fame closing: One of the most popular attractions at Lambeau Field, the Packers Hall of Fame, will temporarily close on Nov. 18 while the next phase of the stadium renovation takes place. The Hall of Fame will move to the first and second floors of the Lambeau Field Atrium and is scheduled to reopen in April 2015.
A new team merchandise store and stadium restaurant will be added.
It is part of a $140.4 million Atrium project, which is the final component of renovations that began in 2011 and included 7,000 new seats that opened this season in the south end zone, a new sound system, new video boards and two new stadium entrances.
Funding for the project came via private financing ($85.5 million) and a loan from the NFL G4 program ($55 million), according to the Packers. Including the south end zone and the Atrium, the total cost of the renovations will be $286.5 million. None of the funding will be from public tax money, the team said.