No one will argue that the safety position was a major deficiency for the Green Bay Packers during the 2013-14 season. They didn’t generate a single interception and they frequently looked lost in coverage. Now, as we enter the 2014-15 campaign, it’s poised to be a position of strength.
For starters, gone is M.D. Jennings, who is now competing for a roster spot in Chicago. Entering is first-round draft selection Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who, according to many, fell as a gift to the Packers at the 21st spot.
Also garnering headlines is versatile defensive back Micah Hyde. Last year, he played mainly in the nickel substitution packages or covering the slot receiver. However, during the most recent OTAs, he took first-team reps at safety alongside Morgan Burnett.
With the combination of Clinton-Dix and Hyde competing for playing time next to Burnett, it appears the Packers are set at the starting safety tandem.
Third-year player Sean Richardson would beg to differ. His career almost never got started when he sustained a serious neck injury during his 2012 rookie campaign, but now that he’s fully healed, he’s poised to make some noise in the defensive secondary as he enters another season in defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ system.
It’s easy to forget about Richardson because he went undrafted in 2012 and then free missed extensive time during the most crucial first two years of a young player’s developmental window.
However, his measurables cannot be ignored. When compared to Clinton-Dix, he is bigger (6’2″ and 216 lbs. to 6’1″ and 208 lbs.), faster (4.52 secs to 4.58 secs in the 40-yard dash), stronger (22 reps to 11 reps at the bench press), more explosive (38.5″ to 33.0″ inches in the vertical jump and 128″ to 119″ in the broad jump), and more agile (7.01 secs to 7.16 secs) in the 3-cone drill).
These aren’t knocks against Clinton-Dix at all because he is considered a first-round talent and should make an immediate impact.
It simply means we can’t forget about Richardson because he is a rare combination of size, strength, and speed.
Richardson has elite measurables, but he simply needs time to develop his game. He went undrafted because scouts thought his coverage skills fell short of what his athleticism should dictate.
Interestingly, scouts thought the same thing about fellow undrafted defensive back Sam Shields. The tall and fast Shields showed flashes of brilliance at times, but did struggle in coverage at times early on during his career. But, once given extensive playing time at the cornerback position when Charles Woodson was converted to safety, Shields excelled and recently earned a lucrative contract extension.
I’m not claiming that Richardson will have a similar meteoric rise as Shields, but the Packers do have a precedent of developing undrafted defensive backs if you also consider cornerback Tramon Williams. Clearly, the defensive backs coaches are onto something.
Richardson may not crack the starting lineup, but his emergence will promote competition at the safety position, which will improve the overall defense. Pushing Clinton-Dix and Hyde for playing time can only be a good thing.
Playing in substitution packages gives Capers more creative flexibility. Imagine if Richardson can be trusted in the back end of the defense. That frees up Hyde to line up in several different packages and positions.
Depth at the safety position is something the Packers haven’t had in quite some time. That’s quite refreshing and suggests the 2014-15 defense will have some noticeable improvements.——————