2013 Packers Position Group Analysis: Safety

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Morgan Burnett
Burnett returns as a leader of both the safety group as well as the Packers team as a whole in 2013

Packers Safeties:  One of the youngest groups on the current Green Bay Packers roster, this is a position that is expected to take a big step forward in 2013.  The team will be without long-time veteran Charles Woodson and will rely on Morgan Burnett to assume that leadership role.  Third-year player M.D. Jennings joins second-year player Jerron McMillian opposite Burnett with Sean Richardson likely in the fold as well.

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Where are we now:

Here are the current suspects:

Morgan Burnett (3rd round)

M.D. Jennings (UDFA)

Jerron McMillian (4th round)

Sean Richardson (UDFA)

Burnett was a steady rock for the Packers in 2012, playing in all 16 regular season games and both playoff games.  After missing most of his rookie season of 2010 and being hampered by a hand injury in 2011, Burnett showed that he can be counted on and durable enough to play a full season.  His play improved both in coverage and run support.  The assumption is that he will continue that trend in 2013 and become one of the defensive leaders on this team.

Jennings platooned with the rookie McMillian opposite Burnett after Woodson went down.  He doesn’t have blazing speed but he has a knack for sticking his nose into the play and is not afraid to get after the ball.  He scored the team’s first interception return for a touchdown and had seemingly sealed a tough road win at Seattle before. . well, we all know that story by now.  Jennings will certainly be a part of the team’s plans at safety in 2013 in one capacity or another.  He is also a contributor on special teams so I fully expect him on the 2013 roster.  For an undrafted free agent, Jennings has, at the very least, matched the expectations he had when he was brought in.  He is trending upward and should continue on the path to exceeding them if he can stay healthy.

McMillian was a bit of a risky pick by GM Ted Thompson in the fourth round of last year’s draft.  Many scouts had him slated in the fifth round or lower.  Thompson liked what he saw in McMillian and decided to snag him before another team could land this potential blue chipper.  McMillian has a solid build and good speed for that build.  He has good ball skills as well as his ability to come up in run support.  He struggled a bit in his rookie season, but showed nothing less than what the Packers hoped they had when they drafted him.  Much like Jennings, McMillian has a solid chance to continue to grow into more of a full-time role in 2013 and will battle with Jennings for that role.

Richardson played very sparingly in 2012 and missed the team’s last five games after going on season-ending injured reserve with a back injury.  He had surgery and is expected to be ready to resume football activities by the start of training camp.  Richardson showed some flash in last year’s training camp and was able to land a roster spot as a result.  He is depth at the safety position and I do not expect him to push for a starting spot, although anything can happen in August.  Richardson was a special teams contributor and so I expect him to have every chance to return to the team in some capacity in 2013.

Where we want to be:

In 2012 the Packers struggled in pass coverage, much as they had during the 2011 season.  It is obvious that the team still has not found a suitable replacement for Nick Collins and that is a tall order to begin with.  Green Bay is hoping that, much like Collins, Burnett can turn the corner in 2013, his fourth season in the league.  It would give the secondary a huge boost.  Position coach Darren Perry has done well, so far, in bringing Burnett along and was able to improve the play of both Jennings and McMillian as the 2012 season progressed.

Burnett was the team’s leading tackler this past season and that’s not typically what you want to see in a 3-4 scheme that is supposed to contend for a Super Bowl title.  Six of the team’s interceptions came from the safety position and both of Burnett’s came in the same game.  This is an area where the Packers need to improve in pass coverage and need to see the young guys step up in that capacity.

If Dom Capers returns as Defensive Coordinator, I expect to see him employ more of the typical zone coverage and therefore the safeties will be tasked with preventing the deep pass and big play.  Don’t mistake that as my saying that they should use the zone, but it’s Capers’ M.O. and zebras don’t change their stripes.  I’m just going off of historical tendencies in that scenario.

With the struggles that the Packers had with Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson and with Chicago’s Matt Forte always a threat out of the backfield, run support will be a need area for the defense and the safeties will be called upon to clean up.

Beyond containing those top running backs, the Packers also face mobile quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III.  It’s near certain that both will get into the second and third level at times during those contests.  Any lack of improvement in how the Packers played Kaepernick this past season means more footage of the Green Bay safeties watching him run wild again.

The mental aspect of the safety position is one that improves with experience and the Packers safeties will need to take a step forward here.  Being assignment-sure is critical to a player’s success and is the difference between a big play or an incompletion or more importantly, a win or a loss.  Film study during this offseason is important for this young group to prepare to get to the next level in 2013, and they need to if this team wants to get back to the conference championship game.

How Do We Get There?

With safety not being a hole on the Green Bay roster, free agency is an unlikely place that Thompson will look for any help or depth.  As far as the unrestricted free agents, the top young names that stand out to me in this talent pool are Jarius Byrd (Buffalo), Kenny Phillips (NY Giants), William Moore (Atlanta), Dashon Goldson (San Francisco), Stevie Brown (NY Giants) and Patrick Chung (New England).

Byrd is likely headed for a big payday and while his name has surfaced in conversations surrounding potential targets for the Packers, he will likely command too much for those conversations to get hot.  I expect the Giants to bring Phillips back and the same for Atlanta with Moore.  Super Bowl teams have a tendency to lose some key pieces and I can see Goldson moving on, but he is also likely too high-priced for Green Bay to consider at a position that is not a desperate need.

Brown and Chung could end becoming bargains after the previous few sign their big-money deals.  I see Brown as a potential flash in the pan and who could end up not playing up to the deal he signs this offseason.  A bit of a “buyer beware” scenario, in my opinion.  He played well in spurts but disappeared at the end of the season when the Giants needed him most.  Chung may opt to return to New England where there is always seemingly a chance to win another Super Bowl.  He will want to start wherever he lands and I can see a team with a deeper need at safety throwing some good money at him to lure him their way.  That team likely won’t be the Packers.

The draft is the safest bet for the Packers to address the safety spot.  The top five prospects entering the 2013 NFL draft are Kenny Vaccaro (Texas), Erid Reid (LSU), Matt Elam (Florida), Baccari Rambo (Georgia) and Phillip Thomas (Fresno State).

Vaccaro and Reid are both projected in the first round and I don’t expect the Packers to address this position that soon.  Elam and Rambo project in the second round and this could be a possibility if Thompson likes one of these players enough.  As I have mentioned before, the second round has been a gold mine for Thompson over the past five seasons.  Taking a safety this high would tell us what he feels they currently have at that position.

I don’t see Thompson looking to the undrafted free agency pool at an anchor position on the defense.  Never say never, but it would take an injury and no other viable option to shore up the position for this to be where Thompson adds depth to the safety position.

In closing, Green Bay may add a name or two to the mix at safety or they may leave it to the current set altogether.  Much will depend on which players present themselves in the draft and if any of them see their stock rise after the Combine and pro days.  It’s not a big need as it stands for the 2013 Packers team, but if the right player is on the board and the can take a step forward, it could end up being an area that looks quite a bit different than it has over the past few seasons.

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Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.com

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  • waldo

    Here’s the deal. The Packers sorely miss someone who has the range that Collins had. We don’t necessarily need a thumper. We just need a guy that can cover from sideline to sideline with ball skills and will get guys down. I don’t care how they get them down, just don’t miss tackles. It’s no coincidence that Tramon hasn’t played as well as he did before Collins was cut. Yeah the injury..whatever. Collins range was able to “make right” the Tramon’s mistakes or gambles– those gambles often turned into INT’s. You mentioned that Capers will be playing a zone. There is no greater ally to zone coverage, besides a great pass rush, than a safety that can shrink other players zones. I think its a bigger need than you give it credit. I’m not asking for the next Ed Reed or Nick Collins but Burnette, Jennings, and Macmillian are certainly not the answer.

    • Thomas Hobbes

      lol I would say you are asking for the next Ed Reed or Nick Collins, safeties who can cover sideline to sideline and make tackles are hard to find.

    • Oppy

      Completely agree that Tramon can not gamble and play tight like he used to because Collins isn’t behind him.

      However, I have to mention that there isn’t any safety in the league that plays “sideline to sideline”. The football field is 50 yards wide. There isn’t anyone who can truly cover that amount of real estate.

      Collins was special because he could play from far hash to sideline, and that’s really impressive- maybe only two other guys in the league have that ability.

      I’d also point out that Morgan Burnett HAS actually shown that range. I don’t remember the game- Tampa Bay maybe?- from a year or two ago, but Burnett made a break on a ball that was undeniably Collins-esque. Very impressive.

      Also, if Jeron McMillian develops, he has blinding speed at the safety position, he’s a 4.3 guy.

  • Chad Toporski

    The Packers need a good safety to go with Burnett. Heck, they need a safety for depth if nothing else…

  • Stroh

    I don’t get the questions about Capers returning. Sorry but its just dumb. Capers isn’t going anywhere… If he was in getting fired it would have happened weeks ago. I don’t even think Capers was/or is on a hot seat!

    This team desperately needs another Safety to pair w/ Burnett. Jennings is a backup at best, not unlike DJ Smith at ILB. McMillan has the physical tools, physicality and tackling ability, but he struggles in coverage and his ball skills are lacking. Jennings is just the opposite… Jennings is too small and doesnt scare any reciever that enters his zone. Both Jennings and McMillan are basically 1/2 of a very good safety. If you could combine their skills in McMillans body you would have a really good safety. Each by themselves is a backup/role player.

    I REALLY think Safety has to be one of the higher priorities for the Packers and they need an upgrade. Using a 1st or 2nd on one of the better Safeties in the draft is nearly a must IMO. Vacarro, Reid or Phillip Thomas would do wonders. Of those I like Reid the most. Best speed and range and he brings a physicality and toughness the D needs.

    • http://allgbp.com/category/authors/jason-perone/ Jason Perone

      To not think there would be questions about Capers job security after this season is just blind faith. God bless you for loving this team so much. Not a crime, but let’s stop short of calling something “dumb” here? That is, in and of itself, dumb. Not Packer people type of banter, man.

      • Stroh

        What I said, and you failed to read, was that IF Capers was getting fired it would have happened WEEKS ago. Maybe you should read what was written instead of jumping to conclusions. For that matter, I don’t think Capers was in any danger of being fired, cuz its not McCarthy’s nature to over-react. Whether fans think he should have been fired is completely immaterial. Its not the nature or history of Thompson or McCarthy to jump cuz some fans want them to!

        • http://allgbp.com/category/authors/jason-perone/ Jason Perone

          Its’ not “over-reacting” by McCarthy if he were to have let Capers go. Plenty of valid questions about whether or not he would be back. Need a replay of the week 17 game or the Divisional playoff? I can hook it up if you do.

          You’re wrong, I didn’t fail to read. I read your wording “its just dumb”. By the way it would be “it’s” with an apostrophe, but let’s not get into semantics. The issue is your demeanor and attitude on this site. Count the thummbs down to your posts, Stroh. It’s not just me. Tone it down or find another site and group of fans, fans of YOUR SAME TEAM, to belittle. Not here!

          • Stroh

            I said what I believe. Scotts the one who went w/ the name calling go bitch at him.

            There were alot of questions by fans about whether or not Capers would return. I never heard of one from the organization about his job being in jeopardy. That is and was my point.

            • Scott 1956

              Stop talking down to people! You opinion is no more or less valid than anyone else’s! THAT was the point!

              • Stroh

                Did I say my opinion is more or less valid? No… I might explain it better, but I didn’t say its more valid. Why do you start discussing instead of calling people names?

          • Stroh

            Sorry but I don’t think Fans having questions about Capers returning are necessarily legitimate.

            I did say its dumb, but thats different than saying your dumb. One is an insult the other is a disagreement.

  • Scott 1956

    Capers should have been fired the very moment the 49er game was over! He made no adjustments at halftime of that game. And his soft zone continues to take third and long for opponents, and turn them into first downs with regularity! The last three playoff losses were a direct result of Capers defense getting killed!
    They do need a safety. But that may have to wait until the third round, because of other positions that need immediate help.

    • Chad Toporski

      Except for the fact that it was the man coverage that was beating the Packers defense against the 49ers…

      Oh, and for some reason the Packers offense really seemed to struggle against the “soft zones” teams were throwing at them…

      It’s all about execution.

      • ThomasMagnumPI

        It seems that the lion’s share of sacks this year were of the “coverage sack” variety.

        Given AR’s propensity to hold the ball to let things develop (and sometimes to a fault), I feel that a viable checkdown option is very important. To me, that means having 4 or less guys running routes, with a RB releasing after chipping/helping vs pressure. Kuhn is not well-suited for that role IMO, but Harris seemed to have a knack for it.

      • Scott 1956

        I know it’s hard Chad, but try to understand what’s written! I wrote “And his soft zone continues to take third down and long, for opponents, and turn them into first downs with regularity”. That was a statement for the season! That’s why I wrote OPPONENTS! Not 49ers! Trying to be insightful, but not understanding what’s right in front of you! And you wonder why people on this site take shots at you? Try understanding the english language, it might help you.

        • Stroh

          Packers play far more man coverage. As for 3rd and long the reason you play a zone is to keep things in front of you and prevent the offense from getting a long “enough” play to prevent a 1st down. If you play man on 3rd and long all the DB’s have their backs to the play and a short completion becomes a LONG completion. Really no such thing as a “soft” or “tight” zone. Zone is zone no matter how you cut it. Hope thats not too hard for you to understand.

          • Scott 1956

            Stroh, I see that you are back to normal, talking down to people! Seeing you are anal, I’ll use small words. There are many types of zone, for starters. There is the half field zone, there is a two deep as well as a three deep zone. And your stupid “keep it in front of you” zone. Really? You’ve never seen CB’s and LB’s just let WR’s and TE’s get behind them? That would tell you that it’s a zone! Keep it in front of you? The only players that keep it in front of them are Safties. Apparently playing zone defense in the street is your only experience with zone defense. So try to understand the game, before using your obviously limited vocabulary, to talk down to people, jackass!

            • Stroh

              Different levels of a zone does not make it tight or soft. LB play zone underneath and Safeties play zone over the top. Its not a matter of soft or thight, the zone is to cover the field w/in reason. Now if a team is at their own 20 you obviously don’t play zone quite the same as when you on the 10 yard line. See you can’t have a conversation w/o having to resort to calling names… How mature of you!!!

              • Scott 1956

                Stroh, You start the insults, then you’re offended when you get called names! You are the one who said “Hope that’s not to hard for you to understand”! So now you cry fowl,when I call you a jackass?
                Why don’t you have your mom, if you know who she is, get you a warm glass of milk and your blanky and go back down to your basement for a while. Then come back out when you think the coast is clear. Then you can show everybody how limited your understanding of football really is!
                You see, that’s how you insult someone! Jackass!

              • Stroh

                Scott, didn’t know I had to talk to you like you were a woman i wanted to have sex with. I guess I made the assumption that a man can talk differently to another man than he would a woman.

                I think the one that needs mommy is you!

              • Stroh

                Were did I insult you?

          • http://allgbp.com/category/authors/jason-perone/ Jason Perone

            Gee Stroh, even if we don’t understand it, I’m sure you’ll come on over and explain it anyway!

        • Scott 1956

          Stroh, You still trying to do what exactly? Go back to your March 1st, 9:00PM post. You talk down to everybody that doesn’t agree with your stupidity. Then you get called on it, then you whine about being persecuted! Anybody dares to disagree with you, and you talk down to them. You are a little man with little knowledge.

          • Stroh

            Sorry you can’t accept another persons opinion. I don’t see talking down to anyone. Do the Packers play far more man than zone? they do, are you arguing that? Is the point of a zone to keep things in front of you? Yes.. That IS the point of a zone D. Are you denying either of those points?

            • Scott 1956

              You talk down to EVERYONE! You think your opinions are the end of any discussion. You still say the point of all zones is to keep things in front of you? That is not the case! Don’t you watch football? I said it before, the LB’s and sometimes the CB’s will let the WR’s and TE’s get by them. Hence the zone, to keep them between the LB’s and CB’s and the Safties! And not always played the same way. But seeing that you can’t let this go, try going back to football 101, you might actually say something that people might want to read. But after reading all the garbage you spew, I doubt it!

  • Brooklyn81

    Man i really miss Nick Collins

  • Leo

    I think that the Packers got Morgan Burnett in the 3rd round

  • Mojo

    Would have liked to see more of what Sean Richardson could do. Only played in a handfull of games due to various injuries, but he certainly has the size and speed you’re looking for at safety. Maybe we’ll see this year if he can exploit his potential.

  • GBPDAN

    If woodson doesn’t sign with another team, should we take him back at a reduced rate?

    • Oppy

      1) He’s going to sign with another team.

      2) No

  • http://googlechrome madtowne

    I agree with Stroh…we need another
    quality safety. We no longer have the
    luxury of 2 Pro Bowl safetys in Collins
    and Woodsen, and God forbid if Morgan
    Burnett were injured….yikes!

  • Ron LC

    Burnett made good progress last year. I think he’ll be even better this year. A good veteran FA could buy a year or two for Burnett’s young partner(s) to develop. Just think of how good Burnett could be with a guy like Collins to covering his butt when he made mistakes. A year with a reliable partner would allow Burnett to be aggressive without worrying about his partner making dumb mistakes.

  • Jason Perone

    Scott, Stroh…back to football and keep it classy please!

    • Scott 1956

      Jason, I agree. But he should stop talking down to people.

      • Stroh

        And you should start making good discussionary points instead of going to name calling!

        • Scott 1956

          You just can’t stop can you? You don’t know anything about football, then you start typing and remove all doubt!
          YOU started this garbage! And you just won’t admit it.

          • Scott 1956

            I looked up “discussionary” for you.The Dictionary couldn’t find any result for it. Trying to make youself sound smart, when your really the opposite. Your just a sad little man, stroh!

        • Scott 1956

          What’s the matter stroh, making up words to make yourself sound smart doesn’t seem to be working out for you. HAHAHAHA!!!
          Your just a stupid little man!

          • http://allgbp.com/category/authors/jason-perone/ Jason Perone

            Scott, you just replied to your own comment directed at someone else. I think that qualifies as “reaching”. Enough! Back to football.

            People, this isn’t the WWE, it’s a Packers website. Let’s try to simulate intelligent conversation as best as we can, OK?