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.——————
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