Category Archives: MD Jennings

9

July

What Can the Packers Expect from Ha Ha Clinton-Dix Eddie Murphy?

OK humor me for a moment, but watch Trading Places or Coming to America and tell me it doesn’t look like the Packers just drafted a young stand up comedian from Brooklyn, New York.

Alright with that out of the way, we often hear about how some positions are more “primed” for a successful rookie season than others.  Quarterbacks is often cited as the position with the hardest transition between college and the pros likely because college football has a more diluted pool of talent and a wider array of “gimmicky” schemes that often just don’t work in the NFL (see: Wildcat offense).  Wide receiver and offensive linemen are another two positions often cited as having slow progression, again likely because the NFL route tree is considerably more complex and refined than in college and the same can be said about protection schemes and the wider array of pass rushing options professional teams use.  On the other hand running backs and cornerbacks are said to be some of the quickest positions where teams see positive production; the Packers enjoyed perhaps one of the finest rookies seasons out of Eddie Lacy last year on his way to the rookie of the year awards likely in part due to the fact that running the football has a lot of innate talent involved.  Both running backs and cornerbacks also likely rely more on physical traits than the other positions and as a result also have some of the lowest career averages of any position.  But what about safeties?  On one hand, safeties do rely on their speed and agility much in the same way a cornerback does because often times safeties and cornerbacks switch roles.  On the other hand, safeties are responsible for a lot more than just covering a man or a zone; they have to be able to read offenses and routes, fill in gaps and provide run support and in the Packers 3-4 scheme are also responsible for calling the majority of the assignments in the defensive secondary.  So which one is it? Will the Packers be getting an instant rush of success and production out of Clinton-Dix or will he require a season or two to really come into his own?

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16

June

Don’t Forget About Safety Sean Richardson

Safety Sean Richardson. Photo credit: Royalbroil (Wikimedia Commons)

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.

26

May

Xs and Os: Rolling Safety Defense

First round selection Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is an excellent rolling safety.

First round selection Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is an excellent rolling safety.

When the Green Bay Packers selected safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round of the 2014 draft, they were hoping they found the last missing defensive back needed to bring defensive coordinator Dom Caper’s single-high safety defensive blueprint to life.

Last week on our No Huddle Radio podcast, Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq on Twitter) from Optimum Scouting briefly discussed how the Packers may use Clinton-Dix, particularly because he’s very good at rolling in coverage.

Clinton-Dix played in Nick Saban’s pro-style defense at the University of Alabama. The ability to roll safeties is one hallmark of a pro-style defense. Both schemes of Capers and Saban roll safeties, making Clinton-Dix a logical draft pick.

We now know two very important aspects of Capers’ defense:

  1. He prefers to play a single-high safety coverage. I previously wrote about it here.
  2. He, and Clinton-Dix’s University of Alabama, likes to roll the safeties in coverage.

For this article, we’ll look briefly look at what rolling safety coverage is.

What is rolling safety coverage?

As is par for the course in this column, we’ll approach this topic as an oversimplification for illustrative purposes.

Essentially, rolling safeties means they are not “locked” into playing one area of the field, one player, or one zone responsibility on defense. They must be able to move around the field and match the formation and/or the pass pattern deployment the offense runs.

In other words, they “roll” match some aspect of the offense.

We will use the cover 1 defense as our current example to discuss rolling safeties. Keep in mind, however, there are near-infinite ways a defense can roll their safeties. Since we’ve only previously broken down the cover 1, we’ll stick with that as our example.

In the cover 1, there are two main ways the defense can roll the safeties:

  1. Roll to the strength of the formation (formation matching defense).
  2. Roll to the depth of the pass patterns (pattern matching defense).

1. Roll to the Strength of the Formation

In the cover 1 defense, the deep safety (usually the free safety) is responsible for the deep half all by himself. He needs to cover anyone entering the zone and drive towards the ball once it is in flight.

Cover1-Fig1

20

May

Cory’s Corner: Replay and sports have symbiotic relationship

Even instant replay couldn't overturn  the "Fail Mary," handing the Packers arguably one of the toughest losses the franchise has ever swallowed.

Even instant replay couldn’t overturn the “Fail Mary,” handing the Packers arguably one of the toughest losses the franchise has ever swallowed.

Instant replay has become such a large part of the sports vernacular.

Thanks to high definition cameras with every inconceivable angle, instant replay is able to capture what the naked eye simply cannot.

Now, I must admit, I really do like replay. I think it is always an added bonus when there is an ‘eye in the sky’ giving insurance to referees. However, what I absolutely loathe is when game action gets compromised because zebras are squinting at a video feed frame-by-frame.

The NFL began instant replay in 1986. Obviously it has come a long ways since then, but the same philosophy remains true: even with replay, some calls are just going to be missed.

Take Game 5 of the Clippers-Thunder Western Conference semifinals. Replays clearly showed that Reggie Jackson touched the ball before it went sailing out of bounds, but the officials gave the ball back to the Thunder.

I do like MLB’s system of farming out its reviews to a command center in New York that houses 30 HD TVs instead of forcing the umpires on-site to try and scurry over to a makeshift monitor. But alas, baseball isn’t perfect either, which is why it had to change the language for double play balls at second base.

There are a lot of things to like about the NFL system. And I really like that the NFL announced in March to give all power of reviews to its Officiating Command Center in New York. The NFL is usually pretty quick and they usually get the call correct. However, it still bothers me when they have to waste a few minutes just to review an obvious uncontested Jordy Nelson touchdown grab.

Unfortunately, we cannot put the genie back in the bottle. Instant replay is not only here to stay, but it’s only going to expand in scope. In order to whet everyone’s appetite for perfection, (Which will never happen!), I could see more challenges being afforded to teams and refs given more freedom to check the replay if there was a question about anything.

Obviously, the more replay seeps into the game, how much gameflow will be affected? Thanks to a study done by The Wall Street Journal in 2010, approximately 17 minutes of an NFL game is dedicated to replays. How much time is actually spent playing? Only 11 minutes.

14

February

Big-name free agent targets for the “big-spending” Packers

Could free agent safety Louis Delmas join Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb in Green Bay? Never say never.

Could free agent safety Louis Delmas join Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb in Green Bay? Never say never.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Feb. 12 that the Packers, armed with $30 million in cap space, are prepared to spend on outside free agents this offseason to remake the defense in Dom Capers’ image.

Capers has been in Green Bay for five seasons, so the wording is a bit confusing. Surely, the Packers haven’t given Capers a team of bobsledders and asked him to mold them into an attacking 3-4 defense. But regardless, Rapoport’s report ignited a spark of hope among Packers fans that the team would make a rare dip into free agency.

With all due respect to Matthew Mulligan and Duke Preston, the Packers haven’t made any “splash” moves in free agency since 2006 — when they signed both cornerback Charles Woodson and defensive lineman Ryan Pickett.

The Packers’ offseason spending spree got off to a roaring start with Thursday’s addition of fourth-year undrafted free agent tight end Raymond Webber. That was sarcasm. But it’s rather comical that a portion of the fan base almost seems upset that Webber’s name isn’t Jimmy Graham.

Of course, the Packers’ $30 million in cap space won’t be $30 million for long, as they’ll be forced to spend about $5 million on this year’s rookie class. And with Sam Shields, Evan Dietrich-Smith, and others (perhaps Jordy Nelson and/or Randall Cobb) likely to receive contract extensions, that number will continue to shrink.

But should the Packers let B.J. Raji walk — which seems more likely than not, given Raji’s production, or lack thereof, the past two seasons and his reported rejection of a contract extension that would have paid him $8 million per year — then they’ll have some financial flexibility to perhaps spend on veterans. Take into account Jermichael Finley’s cloudy future coming off major neck surgery, and the Packers could, really, become players in free agency.

As far as positions of need, the Packers could use help at every level of the defense. The opposite can be said about the offense, with the exception of tight end, at which they could still bring back Finley or opt for a cheaper option in Andrew Quarless.

Here are a few bigger-name free agents the Packers could — probably won’t — but could target once free agency hits.

22

January

M.D. Jennings: 2013 Green Bay Packers Evaluation and Report Card

M.D. Jennings

M.D. Jennings

1) Introduction:  Green Bay Packers safety M.D. Jennings entered the 2013 season primed to compete with Jerron McMillian for the starting safety spot opposite Morgan Burnett.  In fact, the Packers largely brought Jennings back to push McMillian, who they had really hoped would win the job.  After splitting reps nearly evenly in 2012, Jennings won the starting role.  That McMillian was released in early December for his poor play and attitude says something about the quality of that competition to begin with.  Many expected Packers general manager Ted Thompson to address the safety position in last year’s draft, which had quite a few high-value options to choose from.  That wasn’t the case and the Packers banked on either Jennings or McMillian taking a step forward.  That also wasn’t the case.  While Jennings was durable and started every game, he was rarely a factor and if brought back in 2014, it would be solely for competition or special teams purposes.

2) Profile:

Melvin Delanie “M.D.” Jennings

  • Age: 25
  • Born: 7/25/1988 in Grenada, MS
  • Height: 6’0″
  • Weight: 195
  • College: Arkansas State
  • Rookie Year: 2011
  • NFL Experience: 3 years

Career Stats and more

3) Expectations coming into the season:  Jennings was given the opportunity to win a starting spot but was largely expected to merely be depth at the safety position in 2013.  After Packers general manager Ted Thompson chose not to address the safety position in the draft or in free agency, the door was open for Jennings to take a step forward and secure his role on the team.  After making a few big plays in 2012, the hope was that Jennings would make a jump from year two to year three and become a diamond in the rough to add to Thompson’s list.  The Packers needed that complimentary player next to Burnett who could cover and flash their ball skills.

16

January

Safety First: Packers’ offseason needs start in secondary

Morgan Burnett had a disappointing 2013 season, and the starting spot alongside him is very much up for grabs.

Morgan Burnett had a disappointing 2013 season, and the starting spot alongside him is very much up for grabs.

Injuries, Ted Thompson, Dom Capers, Nick Collins and more injuries. The reasons identified for the Green Bay Packers’ struggles at safety are plentiful, but the current state of the position leaves little room for debate.

The Packers are in less-than-ideal shape at safety. And it’s debatably the team’s most glaring need this offseason.

After missing the first three games of the season, Morgan Burnett was, as usual, an every-down player for the Packers, leading the safeties with 874 snaps played. M.D. Jennings, prior to seeing a reduction in playing time late in the season, finished second among the team’s safeties, as he was on the field for 809 snaps. But with Jennings’ future in doubt as he hits unrestricted free agency, the 2014 depth chart is foggy.

It may be unlikely but still possible that the Packers’ opening-day starter opposite Morgan Burnett is already on the roster, however he’s probably not currently listed as a safety.

Casey Hayward, who missed all of the 2013-14 season except for 88 plays, is set to return in 2014, which brings Micah Hyde’s situation into light. Hayward graded out as Pro Football Focus’ No. 4 cornerback as a rookie in 2012 and is at his best operating from the slot–the same spot Hyde saw most of his action this past season.

When he’s healthy, Hayward will be on the field. Given the Packers’ state at safety, Hyde’s best chance to see significant playing time may be at safety. Remember you’re living in a world in which Mike Neal plays outside linebacker.

Despite dropping what would have been a career-defining interception against the 49ers in crunch time a couple weeks ago, Hyde had a terrific rookie season, one in which he proved capable of playing all over the formation. If the Packers give him a full offseason of preparation, perhaps Hyde could be “the guy” alongside Burnett.

Of course, Hyde’s transition to safety hinges on the uncertain futures of cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Sam Shields. And both could be playing elsewhere next season.

Ideally, the Packers want two players who can play both free and strong safety. By committing to Morgan Burnett with a long-term contract, the Packers feel they have one such player already. But other than Burnett, the Packers have just Chris Banjo–and his 192 snaps played in 2013–and Sean Richardson (156) set to return next season at safety, and neither player has proven to be anything more than a solid run defender.