In Casey Hayward, the Green Bay Packers see shades of Charles Woodson. The ascension of a rookie helped ease the erosion of a veteran.

"This guy has a skill set that, in the past, is very similar to Woodson," cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr. said. "And that's rare."

They saw the signs throughout last season. The 5-foot-11, 192-pound Hayward led the defense in interceptions (six) and pass breakups (21) from Woodson's old spot in the slot. So now — after studying that rookie season — coaches also realize the 2012 second-round pick can crank his play-making up an octave.

In his prime, Woodson was the most cutthroat ball hawk in the game. He knew when to jump routes, how to transform from cornerback to receiver. While Hayward's sixth sense for the position resembles the future Hall of Famer, the Packers also see room to grow.

Whitt envisions Hayward being a "double-digit intercept guy," adding that he could have — no, should have — been one last year.

"He's smart, he's instinctive," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "You guys saw some of his strengths last year as far as taking the ball away. Guys who have football instincts and football smarts end up in the right place more often than guys who don't have those qualities."

He's in the right place at the right time. For Hayward, there's no buffering period with the ball in flight. He quickly shed the hiccup of hesitation so common in rookie defensive backs, deflecting 14 passes in his final eight games.

Hayward's challenge now is catching "the flash of the ball," Whitt said. Those tips can become picks.

"He can smell routes and see things and do things that not many people can do," Whitt said. "Now, what 'Wood' can do that he has to learn how to do is he's got to learn how to catch the flash of the ball. That's one thing 'Wood' can do better than anybody. And Casey needs to continue to improve on that."

As the coach explained, cornerbacks don't have the luxury of tracking the ball in flight like wide receivers. They can't follow the ball to their hands. Thus, outstanding peripheral vision is a must. This is one of Sam Shields' best traits, Whitt said. He peeks, sees the ball and gets his hands on it.

If Hayward blends his instincts with an ability to spot the flash of the ball, Whitt said, "now we're talking double digits."

Take Green Bay's 24-20 win at Detroit on Nov. 18, one of Hayward's best games. A high roller like Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford tees up many "flash of the ball" opportunities. Hayward picked off Stafford once but could have had more through his five breakups. A split-second quicker with his hands and Hayward would have picked off more passes last season.

Through organized team activities, this is something Hayward is working on.

"You can just see he's very comfortable out there (with) his instincts and his route recognition," coach Mike McCarthy said. "He had a couple routes he jumped today. I look for him to be a much better player in Year Two.

"Casey Hayward is just a natural football player. Obviously, all these professional athletes are very athletic and have a high level of ability and skill set. Casey is exceptional in that he makes it look really — it comes very natural to him. He's very fluid in everything he does, hand-eye coordination, excellent hands."