Cory’s Corner: Pressure’s on for Morgan Burnett

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Morgan Burnett has six interceptions in his four-year NFL career. He had zero last year.
Morgan Burnett has six interceptions in his four-year NFL career. He had zero last year.

Hopefully Morgan Burnett doesn’t read his press clippings, listen to the radio or watch TV.

Because after last season, there have been plenty of Packers fans that were incensed with his lackluster play.

Which is why the 25-year-old enters 2014 with the most to prove. Last July, I was shocked when the Packers gave him a four-year $24.75 million extension.

He has been serviceable, but it was questionable to give him that money when he never really wowed anyone on gameday.

And after he signed that deal, Burnett went out and laid an egg. No picks. No sacks. Just 66 tackles and three fumble recoveries.

Burnett has gone 24 games without an interception, which isn’t exactly high praise for a strong safety.

With all the beef the Packers now have tied up in their front seven, that will put even more pressure on the defensive backs to win one-on-one battles. Because if guys like Julius Peppers, Clay Matthews and Nick Perry are consistently getting pressure on the quarterback, imagine how frustrating it will be if coverage breaks down and drives are allowed to continue?

Now that the Packers picked safety Ha Ha Clinton Dix in the first round, Burnett not only needs to bring it on the field, he also must be a leader for a green secondary — aside from Tramon Williams and Jarrett Bush.

Now, obviously the Packers didn’t give him that money just for last year. They would like a solid return on the entire investment. But the thing that is the most alarming is that Burnett never showcased that animal instinct that I saw when he was playing at Georgia Tech. Instead, he easily blended in with an average defense.

The Packers allowed five 300-plus yard passing games last year. Of those games, there were 13 touchdown passes.

The division games will be tough enough with the Lions adding Golden Tate alongside Calvin Johnson and the Bears’ murder’s row trio of Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett is arguably the best fleet of pass catchers in the league.

Add in games against Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan and this secondary will be tested.

The question is, how will Burnett, the supposed anchor in the Packers’ secondary, respond? He must be assertive by being physical and establishing his presence to receivers. Make them think twice about coming over the middle. I don’t mean a fine-inducing Chuck Cecil hit, just a hit of the legal variety that forces opposing pass catchers to look over their shoulders.

If he starts punishing receivers, others will likely copy it on defense. You notch up the physicality a little, the turnovers will eventually come.

Burnett is probably as content as a dog after digging up its bone. But he should be feeling the pressure cooker of another potential ordinary season.

If the Packers locker room doesn’t know it, there is a limited window to win in the NFL. And that window for the Packers couldn’t be any more wide open than it is right now.

Which is why all the cogs of this team need to be running efficiently. Burnett often got burned badly in man-to-man coverage last year. Even if Aaron Rodgers throws 38 touchdown passes, uninspiring pass coverage will continue to keep this team grounded.

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Cory Jennerjohn is from Wisconsin and has been in sports media for over 10 years. To contact Cory e-mail him at jeobs -at- yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter: Cory Jennerjohn

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  • Big T

    There is no pressure on Burnett at all. He got his payday and laid a freakin egg. No more incentive for him. He knows that TT will keep him forever, out of spite or not making it obvious he was wrong to show him the money. TT made a bad decision, he needs to suck it up and move on. His ego just doesn’t allow him to do that. We all make bad decisions from time to time. It is how you handle it afterward that determines what kind of a man you are. TT just ignores it. So what kind of a man or lack thereof is he???

    • dave kerrigan

      Really, where are you from? Must not be a Packer fan or even a fan of the NFL. By the way you think the Packers must suck. LOL Just look around the league and compare trophies cases, enough said.

  • http://allpackers.com Nick Perry

    If Burnett doesn’t improve this year you have to wonder if he ever will. With Hyde, Clinton-Dix, and Richardson, the Packers have some players to actually push Burnett. How many times over the last few years have we saw Packers corners expect help and Burnett wasn’t there. He either starts playing better or is replaced and cut after this year, traded if possible. The Packers will pay Burnett $5.1 million in 2015, $6 million in 2016, and $7 million in 2017. That’s alot of money for a guy who’s had 2 interceptions in his last 45 games played. Those coming in the same game against Christian Ponder. Imagine, he was considered a “Ball Hawk”.

    • Stroh

      You might find it interesting that in Collins 3rd season he was completely shut out in turnover plays as well. No INT’s or FF… Collins followed it up w/ 7 INT’s and 1 FF. If you throw out Burnetts rookie season which was a washout by an ACL injury and remember that Burnett was especially young as a rookie (came out as a True Jr), as opposed to Collins who IIRC was a 5th year Sr.

      • Stroh

        To finish the thought…

        If you throw out Burnetts rookie season which was a washout by an ACL injury and remember that Burnett was especially young as a rookie (came out as a True Jr), as opposed to Collins who IIRC was a 5th year Sr, Burnett is in exactly the same point in his career as Collins was entering his 4th season.

      • http://allpackers.com Nick Perry

        That’s interesting Stroh, but Collins didn’t get paid until after the 2009 season. He signed his big money deal in the 2010 off season. In 2008 and 2009 combined, Collins had 13 interceptions, 28 pass defensed, 3 TD’s and a FF. Burnett had 5 passes defensed each of the last 2 years. I understand what you’re saying, it’s just a lot of money to pay a guy to have 5 passes defensed. Collins also came from a D-III school, which should be considered too IMO. Just saying it’s time for Burnett to earn that money, especially with other options at Safety.

        • Stroh

          That’s true but didn’t the collective bargaining agreement change the rule and force teams to give players contracts a year sooner than before? Even if it wasn’t the case, Burnetts contract came up and the Packers HAD to make a decision. They surely based that decision using history, not only Collins, and IIRC there weren’t too many people questioning the decision at the time.

          The Packers had to make a choice, and they are going to live w/ it. Hindsight must be great but its a waste of time! You make the best decisions you can and move forward.

          You can’t blame Burnett for getting the best contract he could. So given those facts I pointed out maybe we should give Burnett the chance to earn the rest of the contract. I’m certain the Packers are going to do that!

          Complaining about it after the fact is stupid and a waste of time. If Burnett doesn’t live up to the contract you can blame the Packers. Unless you would be willing to blame yourself for getting the best contract you could for yourself at the time.

        • Stroh

          Collins came from Bethune Cookman which is not D2. Its D1… Just not in the bowl alliance thing. I don’t know the current classification, but think its what used to be considered 1AA or something. Either way the point is he had more experience playing Safety when he entered the NFL than Burnett, albeit at a slight lower level of competition.

          • http://allpackers.com Nick Perry

            You’re right, it’s a D-I school that plays in what they call a FBS subdivision, my point being it’s not the ACC. I never blamed Burnett for getting paid, I scratched my head and asked myself “What are you doing Ted” but you can’t ever blame a player for getting paid. I’m certainly not blaming Ted, I think he gambled Burnett would make the jump. Giving Burnett a chance to earn the rest of his contract would be great, as long as he doesn’t play like last year. Actually my hope is what you commented in the first place, he plays like Collins did in his 4th season. I just have some doubts. But hey if I’m wrong, I couldn’t be happier for being wrong!

            • Stroh

              They had to make a choice… It was sign him or move on w/ only McMillan and Jennings and clearly that wasn’t an option they liked either. They were hoping and expecting Burnett would take a similar jump like Collins did. Maybe it was the astonishingly bad play next to him. Either way the Packers are tied to him for basically another 3 years. The cap hit for releasing him would be very high the next 2 season and 3.3M in 1016, which I don’t see the Packers eating either.

  • Since ’61

    As I have posted previously, the safety position, specifically Morgan Burnett, is the biggest question mark for the Packers going into the 2014 season. As far as I’m concerned, both M. D. Jennings and Burnett played themselves out of their starting jobs in 2013. Jennings is gone which is good. Burnett is still here and apparently still starting because we are invested in him. Having said that, Burnett should be made to fight for his job during training camp and even into the season. He needs to know that if his play does not improve he will be replaced. I would be fine to go with Hyde and Dix at safety. I think that if Burnett does start the season we will know after the first 4 games if his play has improved or not. If not MM needs to make a move. We cannot accept another season of our safeties, missing in action. With a (hopefully) improved and healthy front 7 we cannot afford to have their efforts wasted by bad play at safety. If Burnett improves that would be fine, but he really has a long way to go and now he will face a lot of pressure to improve. How he responds and how MM responds may become a big factor in the Packers 2014 season. Time will tell. Go Pack Go! Thanks, Since ’61

    • Big T

      I agree.

    • Lou

      Also agree,this is show or go for Burnett and the job should not be handed to him Agreed also that Collin’s blossomed later but Collin’s like Sharper had physical skills far superior to Burnett’s. We all know that his running mates last year were jetisoned for poor play but even with a middle of the road running mate in Peprah his play was average at best (wouldn’t Peprah’s 5 picks have looked good last year). Beside physical skills at safety anticipation (quick analysis) are keys to play making, Bob McGinn has made the case that Burnett’s Wonderlic score which is below average for a safety may be linked to him being “late to the ball” on a consistent basis. I like the option, start him early but also replace him early if it is warranted.

  • Tarynfor12

    “With all the beef the Packers now have tied up in their front seven, that will put even more pressure on the defensive backs to win one-on-one battles. Because if guys like Julius Peppers, Clay Matthews and Nick Perry are consistently getting pressure on the quarterback, imagine how frustrating it will be if coverage breaks down and drives are allowed to continue?”

    With the exception of Peppers,don’t we essentially have the same ‘beef’ up front that has been ‘ground’ to chop meat…injuries included or not.

    With regard to how many scream to not expect much from rookies,why then should we expect a meaningful difference based solely on some Peppers being sprinkled into the mix.

    I like what Peppers may do to aid in the enabling of others,but the fact is,based on the off season OTA’S and mini camp to date,those who need to step up have yet to even step on the grass.

    The DB’s have been burnt and much has been on the front seven,though I won’t dismiss some simple bad play from the DB’s that seem all too often also,it all starts up front and starting is already a problem to a degree.

    • Ed Schoenfeld

      As far as I know, Datone Jones, Boyd, Palmer, Mulumba, and Barrington (all 2nd year guys ‘expected’ to step up) participated in every offseason practice.

      Among the veterans, so did Daniels, Raji, Mike Neal, Hawk, Brad Jones and the other free agent addition, Letroy Guion.

      So I think it is a bit of an exaggeration to say that “ased on the off season OTA’S and mini camp to date,those who need to step up have yet to even step on the grass.”

      The three front seven players who have not practiced are Matthews (about whom there should be no worries about talent or intensity), Perry, and Worthy.

      I agree that the last two have made themselves an issue, and should understand that they are fighting to keep their jobs, but they are hardly the only players expected to step up and contribute to improvement on the front seven.

  • http://www.lyrictrumpet.com Bearmeat

    Burnett hasn’t displayed the playmaker’s mentality. But neither did Collins. Until year 4.

    Burnett was bad last year. Yes.

    IF he’s bad again. TT cuts him. And this year, we’ve got HHCD and Hyde (and Richardson) waiting in the wings IF Burnett sucks again.

    We are in a FAR better place at FS/SS this year than any year since going into 2011.

    • marpag

      I agree that Burnett was definitely sub-par last year, but I also feel that he is nowhere near the complete disaster that many fans are portraying him to be. Prior to last year, he definitely seemed to be an ascending player. More than that, he wasn’t quite as much of a whipping boy last year as people think. This seems especially true to me when we remember that Burnett started the year with a serious hamstring injury. I partially tore a hammy in 2006, and it amazes me that anyone would even think of trying to play a position like safety on a hammy that is less than full strength.

      And let me repeat… yes, I agree that Burnett was sub-par last year. But he’s hardly beyond hope.

      • http://www.lyrictrumpet.com Bearmeat

        He’s not beyond hope. But you don’t give a 24 million dollar contract to the equivalent of Charlie Peprah. At his best, that’s all Burnett has ever been.

        If he doesn’t make a BIG jump (and I mean big) this year, then it’s not on Burnett. It’s on TT and Russ Ball for giving a player who is no more than adequate that much money in the first place.

        • Stroh

          Its an unfortunate part of the new collective bargaining agreement. The Packers had to make a choice on Burnett taking the jump in play or not having any viable Safeties. The Packers didn’t have the choice to wait to see if Burnett would play at a higher level. His contract is a little over 5M per, so at least its not Goldson getting 8M.

  • Stroh

    I understand that everyone is bent out of shape about Burnetts lack of INT’s and turnover plays in general. Just thought I would point out (along w/ Bearmeat above) that Burnett (and I’m throwing out his rookie year which was mostly wiped out by an ACL injury) has 5 INT’s and 9 total turnover plays in his last 3 seasons. Collins had 4 INT’s his 1st 3 seasons and 8 total turnover plays.

    Interestingly enough, Collins 3rd season he was shut out as well. He had no INT’s and no Turnover plays in his 3rd season as well. He then went on to follow it up w/ 7 INT’s and 1 FF in year 4. Hopefully Burnett follows up w/ a strong season like Collins did.

    I liked the Safety position even before adding Clinton-Dix in the draft, since I strongly suspected Hyde was moving to Safety and was looking forward to Richardson coming on. Clinton-Dix just adds another huge talent to the Safety group. And I don’t even think Clinton-Dix will start this year. My guess is Burnett and Hyde are the starters and that the Packers will use more Dime coverage than in the past, which moves Hyde to a slot CB and bring Clinton-Dix off the bench.

    • Ed Schoenfeld

      The point about the actual learning curve at safety is well put, the position is effectively the ‘QB’ of the pass coverage unit as well as one where you are expected to diagnose your own assignment well enough to make plays.

      I think, though, we should also consider the other players on the field at the position.

      Fron 2005-6 Collins had Mark Roman and Marquand Manuel before Bigby and Peprah emerged in 2007.

      While that’s not exactly a Hall of Fame ballot, it’s significantly better than Macmillian and MD Jennings turned out to be in 2013.

      Its a lot harder to do your own job when you need to spend that much time worrying if the guy who is supposed to take care of the other half of the field will be able to do his.

      So it’s no surprise to me that Burnett was significantly more effective when playing with better partners in Collins/Peprah (2011) and Woodson (for the first part of 2012.)

  • http://WWW.HAGENSONSTV.COM HawgNSonsTV

    The Pack Will DOMINATE The Next 3 Years! 3 Rings!!!

  • BrianURN

    I think that we’re forgetting that secondary play is a unit. Teams are always going to go after the weakest link. And safties,by definition, are the last line of defense. If Burnett doesn’t have faith in the guys next to or in front of him to make the play, it doesn’t afford him the luxury of ball-hawking or gambling in the back end. Once he’s not worried about filling holes, and focuses on making plays, the INTs will come.