The Cast and Characters of the 2012 Packers Secondary

Packers safety M.D. Jennings

Packers S M.D. Jennings is one of the new characters in the Packers secondary.

We’ve all sat through a terrible movie before. I’m not talking about a movie where it’s so bad, it’s good. I’m talking about a movie that is just plain bad, even painful.

Watching the Green Bay Packers allow almost 5,000 passing yards last season was like watching a bad movie, for a whopping 17 weeks.

If a director makes a terrible movies, he’ll probably try and make some serious changes so his next movie isn’t as bad. Maybe he’ll bring on actors with more experience or a production staff that has a several good movies under their resume.

Not if the director is Ted Thompson.

The Packers GM looked at his flop of a defense and said, “I’m going to get some guys that have even less experience and are more unproven than they players we had last season.”

Nowhere is that more evident than in the secondary.

Who are these guys?

The Packers first regular season game is only a few days away, but we have little idea what the secondary will look like. We know Tramon Williams will be at corner and Charles Woodson will be at safety in base and slot corner in sub packages. We also know Morgan Burnett will be at safety.

But that’s about all we know. We don’t know who the No. 2 corner will be in base and we have little clue what the sub packages will look like.

The defensive front features high-profile draft picks like Nick Perry and Jerel Worthy to try and save the day. The defensive backfield features a rookie safety from Maine, unproven cornerbacks and, gulp, Jarrett Bush.

In my opinion, who starts in the secondary doesn’t really matter. A lot of who we see on the field on Sunday will depend on matchups.

Nonetheless, it’s nice to know more about the cast and characters that are trying to rescue the Packers secondary. We know about the stars — Woodson, Williams and Burnett have been around for a while.

What about the supporting cast? How might they fit? What are their strengths and weaknesses?

Here’s a quick primer on the Packers who will be battling for time in the defensive backfield, both on Sunday and throughout the season.

If none of these players step up, Thompson might have another flop on his hands.

CB Jarrett Bush
Bush got first-team reps right away in training camp and appears to have the inside track to start opposite Williams in base.

Pro: Tackling. Fixing last season’s sloppy tackling appears to be a priority for the Packers, and Bush’s physicality is a plus. We’re still not sure how fundamentally sound Bush is as a tackler, but we know he’s not scared of contact and will dive into the action when needed. The attitude and mindset to tackle is there with Bush.

Con: Double moves. Bush struggles in pass coverage, which is kind of a big deal when you’re a cornerback. Double moves especially give Bush problems. If the Packers lack a pass rush against the 49ers and Bush’s man has time to execute a double move, watch out. It might be a long day for No. 24.

CB Sam Shields
After making the team as an undrafted free agent and playing a leading role in the Packers Super Bowl run in 2010, Shields regressed. There were grumblings that he could be cut, but I never bought those grumblings. There’s no doubt that Shields has a ways to go if he wants to be known as an exciting young player again, though.

Pro: Raw talent. Shields has speed and quickness that you can’t teach. He can run with anyone and has the instincts to make a move on the ball if in proper position. He’s only been playing cornerback for a couple of seasons, so perhaps last season was just an obstacle on his continuing learning curve.

Con: Physicality. It takes more than speed and quickness to be a good corner in today’s NFL. You need to be able to go up against a bigger WR and knock the ball away. You need to put a hit on a running back if he runs a sweep to your side. You need to mix it up with a bigger TE if a pass is floating across the middle. Those are all things that Shields didn’t do last season and absolutely must do this season if he wants a chance to redeem himself.

CB Davon House
A shoulder injury knocked House down the depth chart just as he appeared to be emerging as the front-runner for the No. 2 corner. House will have to wear a brace on the shoulder this season. We all saw how well playing through a serious injury worked out for Tramon Williams last season.

Pro: The size, strength and speed are there. In the limited time he was on the field in the first preseason game against San Diego, he made a couple of nice tackles and defended a few passes. Packers fans on Twitter were even starting to buzz a little bit, then he got hurt.

Con: Inexperience. Obviously, the injured shoulder is the main concern, but beyond that, the Packers just don’t know what they have in House. Yes, he looked good against San Diego, but that was the first preseason game and the Packers have Super Bowl aspirations. Is House good enough to be a starting corner on a Super Bowl team?

CB Casey Hayward
The Packers traded up in the second round to get Hayward and probably see him taking over for Woodson one day as the slot corner. Like most of the rookies, Hayward generated a few days worth of buzz in camp, but wasn’t able to sustain it long enough to lock down a starting job.

 Pro: Hayward was a good at everything at Vanderbilt. He could cover, tackle, make plays on the ball and make plays after he picked off a pass. That’s the sort of multi-dimensional defender needed in today’s NFL.

Con: It’s the same con with Hayward as it is with all of the Packers untested secondary players: What happens when the game counts? What happens when the ball is in the air and Michael Crabtree shoves you in the back as you go up for it? What happens when throwing yourself at Frank Gore doesn’t work like it did against some college RB? Can you adjust and actually make a good form tackle?

CB Brandian Ross
I scratched my head when Thompson kept Ross on the 53-man roster, but I’m guessing it was as much for his play on special teams as anything.

Pro: Playmaking. With a family-night pick-six against Aaron Rodgers and a game-clinching interception against Arizona, Ross has shown playmaking ability. Oh wait, both of those plays happened last preseason. Even though the flashy plays might not have been there this camp, all reports have been good on Ross. Expect him to contribute on special teams.

Con: Talent. Ross didn’t make the team last year and flew under the radar this training camp. I’m thinking the Packers probably don’t think all that highly of him as a CB, but like what he can do on special teams.

S Jerron McMillian
In Thursday’s preseason finale, McMillian got the nod at safety in sub packages. Can this kid really go from the University of Maine to making an immediate impact in the NFL?

Pro: You want tackling? McMillian can tackle (at least he could at Maine). He plays the run well and looks to deliver a hit whenever possible.

Con: Pass coverage. The thought of McMillian trying to cover Vernon Davis (or Brandon Pettigrew or Kyle Rudolph) makes me shudder.

S M.D. Jennings
The Doctor got everyone talking during OTAs and early in camp. But was it a case of malpractice? We’ll see if Jennings’ play makes Packers fans groan as much as that last sentence did.

Pros: Pass coverage. All reports indicated that Jennings, a converted corner, was a good pass defender. I didn’t really see it in the preseason, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.

Con: Size (or lack of it). Our own Thomas Hobbes thinks Jennings is big enough to play safety, but is he really big enough to play safety? He’s not oversized, that’s for sure. And given his size limitations, I was hoping to see a little more in pass coverage out of him this preseason.

S Sean Richardson
Another (somewhat) surprising guy to stick on the 53-man. I’m not sure how much we’ll see of Richardson this season, but the Packers like him as a developmental project.

Pro: Raw talent. Richardson overcame a lot to make the team and now has a shot to learn and possibly be in position to contribute next season. Of course, he shouldn’t be counted out as a possible contributor right away given the Packers lack of experience at safety, but I see Richardson more as a project for 2013 and beyond.

Con: Second-guessing. If the secondary is a disaster, I could see some fans getting angry at Thompson and pointing at Richardson. The logic being that it might have made more sense to sign a safety with some experience instead of keeping a developmental project on the 53-man roster.


Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam's writing on the Packers here.


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16 Responses to “The Cast and Characters of the 2012 Packers Secondary”

  1. Ron LC says:

    Thanks for the great run down Adam. I loved the movie analogy.

    I think you got all the +’s and -’s in the right places. What it amounts to is Capers must get these guys to play with enthusiasm. If the D goes into a “prevent” shell like they did last year it could be difficult to win some of the important games on the schedule.

    As I’ve said before, DC has had all last season and training camp to address the deficiencies that resulted in a last place yardage rating. AND, a very poor 3rd down ranking. He must prove he can reverse that trend NOW. You can’t play with caution with so many inexperienced players that will be used in the 5 and 10 packages.

    That said, I do have faith in DC and believe we’ll see a much different D this year. Go Pack!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • Adam Czech says:

      If the pass rush improves, I don’t think we’ll see the same conservative secondary play from last season.

      But even if the pass rush doesn’t improve, I hope we don’t see the same conservative play in the secondary. It didn’t work last season…..

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  2. Mr. Bacon Mr. Bacon says:

    Here is the good news and bad news.

    The +: These rookies will get a HEAVY, HEAVY amount of playtime in terms of playing Pass Defense since the Packers will be scoring a lot to be forcing the opposing side to throw the ball more than it want’s to just to keep up.

    The -: If these guys get roasted, toasted, and burnt to a crisp continuously even when the defensive line is pushing hard and the linebackers have the TE covered, then they might get cut next season or even this season.

    By the end of the year, the coaches will have a plethora of game film to figure out who is a prospect, who is potential and who needs to feel the wrath of Ted Thompson’s sharp red axe because we all know he is sadistic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  3. Tarynfor12 says:

    Pass rush,pass rush,pass rush…..without it…..the only thing that might change is the seat you watch the rerun from…unless a season seat holder.

    If this season is a rerun don’t blame the ‘also starings’ blame the ‘stars’ for not learning the lines and understanding their roles.
    And yes,the debut of Perry and Worthy must be rewatchable in an OMG!!! mindset and not an sheesh!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  4. ScottS says:

    We’ll almost surely see some growing pains with all the young players. We can only hope they don’t come at critical times and aren’t costly. I don’t think we can expect the defense to be great out of the gate but we should expect great things from them when they hit their stride.
    Hopefully the coaching staff is struggling to determine who will play the best and not trying to decide who will mess up the least.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  5. Mellowfeet says:

    TT brings in talent and then the coaches take over. This system seems to work most of the time. No system will work all the time. I love watching players fight for their jobs and the competition it creates.
    That is just one of the many things that makes me a proud Packer Fan

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  6. Big T says:

    The D needs to be good right out of the gate and improve to excellant by mid-season otherwise they are watching the superbowl at home..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  7. PackersRS says:

    If Burnett makes the jump he’s supposed to make (a.k.a. not jumping routes) and one other guy plays like Shields in 2010, this is a top 5 defense. In any category you choose.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

    • Mr. Bacon Mr. Bacon says:

      So wait, are you saying that you don’t want him to jump routes?

      I mean yes it’s risky, but the great ones always take a risk. You just never know when you might get another shot at a game changing interception. The NFL becomes a fine line during Playoffs. One little play can change the dynamic.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

      • Ed says:

        One safety (at least) has to play with the mindset of ‘Deeper than the deepest.’ That’s why they call him a safety. This is one reason it took Collins three seasons before he started getting turnovers on a regular basis — when you are the ‘deeper than the deepest’ guy you need to be very careful about when you jump a route or fight for the ball instead of just making sure the receiver goes down. The fact that we needed to switch this role from Collins to Burnett last season contributed significantly to the Packers lousy big play defense.

        Just guessing (but I think this is an easy one), the ‘Deeper than the deepest’ guy will not be named Woodson. Nor can the deep cover guy really be someone who hasn’t seen enough schemes and disgused pass-routes to understand instinctively what what the offense is trying to do. So it’s Burnett by default, and we hope his learning curve for diagnosing the routes has accellerated considerably from what it was last year. More to the point, we need to hope he embraces that role, and learns when not to go for the big play because it risks a big mistake.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      • PackersRS says:

        Not the way he was last year. It wasn’t just on pump fakes, the QB simply looked his way and Burnett automatically moved.

        He cannot bite that easily, he’s usually the deepest player. There will be plenty of times where he must keep the deepest WR in front of him.

        I have faith he’ll be able to gauge correctly, moreso with an improved pass rush.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. Mojo says:

    From what I saw of Ross this preseason, I though he was one of the best in our secondary. You must have missed the Bengals game, because Ross played very well.

    I don’t know if this is on the LBs, but could someone cover the middle of the field. Just like last year, I don’t know how many times this preseason an opposing receiver was wide open near or between the hash-marks. Maybe one of the secondary guys like Richardson or McMillian could put a little fear into those who dare tread into their real-estate.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  9. aaronqb says:

    Very good article. I think we are looking at a season where the defense will be much better at the end of the year than they are at the beginning. Lots of rookies who will be asked to step up and play not only in the secondary, but also along the front 7. There could be times there there are 5 defensive rookies on the field at the same time.

    Last year, the defense got worse as the season went on. This year, I think we are looking at the opposite scenario.

    Good news is many of these rookies flashed well during the preseason.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  10. Oppy says:

    I feel pretty good about our secondary.

    I’d feel a lot better if House never got injured, but it is what it is. Yes, the young corners will take their lumps and learn from the school of hard knocks, but that is the best way to learn quickly. I really feel this secondary is the most talented we’ve had (as a group from top to bottom) that I can remember.

    The only real concern for me is the safety spot opposite Burnett when Wood isn’t back there. Time and time again, Capers will dial back his pressure schemes when the safety play is not up to snuff- this goes all the way back to Bigby missing time, etc.

    If our young safeties can’t play well, it could be a painful season. We have talent, let’s hope it can become composed.

    BTW, I don’t know how concerned I am that McMillian’s coverage will be poor. He’s played a lot of dimeback in camp, and he’s got enough speed to make up for mistakes- (apprx. 4.35 40 time)- he might be second only to Shields in raw speed in the secondary.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  11. Rob says:

    the guy in section 210, row 30, seat 8, could also play corner IF WE CAN PRESSURE THE QB!!!!!!!

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