Category Archives: Morgan Burnett

30

July

No worries if Packers’ Ha Ha Clinton-Dix isn’t an Immediate Starter

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

If Packers first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix isn’t a day one starter, don’t panic.

Packers general manger Ted Thompson’s batting average on recent first-round draft picks is below the Mendoza Line. For you non-baseball fans, that means Thompson is hitting under .200 with a lot of tappers back to the pitcher or lazy popups instead of line drives to the gap or tape-measure home runs.

Bryan Bulaga: Talented, some good stretches of play, but can’t stay healthy.

Derek Sherrod: Wasn’t overly impressive before breaking his leg and missing most of two seasons.

Nick Perry: Switched to a 3-4 OLB and can’t stay healthy.

Datone Jones: Hyped during training camp, slowed by an ankle injury, passed on the depth chart by fifth-rounder Josh Boyd.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix: Currently behind converted slot cornerback Micah Hyde on the Packers safety depth chart.

Should we be worried that Clinton-Dix is behind Hyde to start camp? Did the Packers take another lackluster player in the first round, one who isn’t even talented enough to start the season ahead of a converted corner on a team desperately in need of a competent safety?

Or should we celebrate that the safety position finally has some depth? If Hyde turns out to be good, wonderful! Play him ahead of Clinton-Dix while the rookie improves and learns the defense, waiting to seize his opportunity after an injury to a starter or because Morgan Burnett has another ineffective season.

I can see both sides, but the correct side is probably this: It’s way too early to tell. Yes, Hyde might look good at safety now, but let’s see where he stands after an exhibition game or two. Give Hyde some time to learn the defense, figure out his role and see what he can do when the ball is in the air during an actual game.

While the focus remains on Hyde vs. Ha Ha, don’t be surprised if it turns into a three-way dance with Burnett getting added to the match. The perception seems to be that Burnett is a lock as a starter, but if he resembles the stumbling and too-slow-to-react player we saw last season, his starting shot should be put up for grabs.

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21

June

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

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.

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.

9

June

Xs and Os: The Three-Deep Zone Defense (Cover 3)

The cover 3 pass defense has the cornerbacks and free safety splitting the deep half into thirds.

The cover 3 pass defense has the cornerbacks and free safety splitting the deep half into thirds.

Continuing with our series of defensive coverage shells, this week we’ll take a closer look at the three-deep zone defense, which is more commonly known as the cover 3.

Previously, we looked at the cover 1 and cover 2 defenses.

Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers predominantly prefers the single-high safety look, but he has deployed the cover 2 shell frequently over the years.

However, the Packers don’t use the cover 3 all that often, but it’s a defense that every NFL team must have in their arsenal because what it brings to the table.

Of course, this article comes with my standard disclaimer that this is an oversimplification for illustrative purposes only.

Cover 3 Defense Defined

When defending the field, the defense usually divides the area vertically into “halves.” The underneath half typically extends 7 yards from the line of scrimmage and the deep half usually extends 15-20 from the line of scrimmage.

In the three-deep zone defense (cover 3), the free safety and both cornerbacks play zone defense and each guard a third of the deep half. They must cover any receiver entering their respective third of the field and drive towards to the ball once it is in the air. Additionally, they must carry the receivers vertically all the way to the goal line.

The GIF below highlights the assignments.

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Strengths of Cover 3

There is no perfect defense in football. If the defense sells out to stop the run, they are extremely vulnerable to the pass. Likewise, setting up a strong back end to guard the pass makes them susceptible to the pass.

The cover 3 is a compromise defense of sorts. Because the deep third is covered by the free safety and both cornerbacks, the strong safety is free to align in the box.

This means the defense can play eight in the box to stop the run. The front seven (defensive line and linebackers) are in the box in addition to the strong safety.

In a nutshell, the cover 3 allows the defense the flexibility. It can be considered a “jack of all trades” defense. It is a very popular run defense, with pass flex, in the NFL because it allows the defense to pack eight in the box and still drop seven into zone pass coverage.

2

June

Xs and Os: The Double-High Safety Defense (Cover 2)

The cover 2 defense has two safeties splitting the deep half of the field.

The cover 2 pass defense has both safeties splitting the deep half of the field equally.

Now that the Green Bay Packers presumably have two capable safeties roaming the back end of the defense in Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, defensive coordinator Dom Capers will probably be playing more cover 2, which is a staple at all levels of organized football.

The cover 2 is a necessity in modern football defenses because the game has evolved into a passing aerial circus. By placing two safeties deep in the defensive backfield, the defense has more protection against deep passes.

This article breaks down the basics of the double-high safety defense, which is more commonly known as the cover 2. As you’ll see, there are different flavors of the cover 2.

Of course, this article comes with my standard disclaimer that this is an oversimplification for illustrative purposes only.

Cover 2 Defense Defined

When defending the field, the defense typically divides the area vertically into “halves.” The underneath half typically extends 7 yards from the line of scrimmage and the deep half usually extends 15-20 from the line of scrimmage.

In the double-high safety defense (cover 2), the free safety and the strong safety play zone defense and each guard half of the deep half. They must cover any receiver entering their respective half of the field and drive towards to the ball once it is in the air.

The GIF below highlights the assignments.

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Strengths of Cover 2

Football teams that face passing offenses usually must play cover 2 during some point in the game. It is an effective defense against the pass because it allows the defense to drop seven defenders into pass coverage. By having the safeties play zone in the back end, the deep half of the field has two defenders guarding against deep throws. This is a more conservative pass defense than the single-high safety (cover 1) defense.

The safeties are there to bail out cornerbacks on deep balls or to double cover more skilled receivers running deep into the formation.

Weaknesses of Cover 2

Since the cover 2 usually drops seven defenders into pass coverage, it means it is primarily a pass defense. In other words, when running the cover 2, the defense typically cannot place eight defenders in the box to guard against the run.

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

9

May

Packers 2014 NFL Draft: Day 1 Grade and Analysis

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

New Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix holds up a jersey after being selected in the 2014 NFL draft.

With linebackers C.J. Mosley and Ryan Shazier off the board, the Packers used the 21st pick in Thursday’s NFL draft to take free safety Ha’Sean “Ha Ha” Clinton-Dix and hopefully provide a long overdue boost to the safety position.

Ever since Nick Collins’ career ended in early 2011, the Packers have plugged in the likes of Charlie Peprah, M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian at safety with disastrous results. Can Clinton-Dix help end the long-running nightmare for the Packers at safety?

He very well could. I didn’t have any safeties rated as first-rounders in this year’s draft, but with the aforementioned linebackers off the board and general manager Ted Thompson not trading down, Clinton-Dix was the most logical selection.

After the Packers took Clinton-Dix, other safeties came off the board. Deonne Bucannon and Jimmie Ward — originally pegged as possible day-two targets for the Packers — were taken by Arizona and San Francisco, respectively.

Obviously, several teams had first-round grades on a number of safeties. Good thing Thompson and the Packers snatched up Clinton-Dix when they did.

What they’re saying:

“But the chips fell into place for the Packers, who headed into Thursday with a need at safety, and left it with a prospect who had top-10 talent. Clinton-Dix should be a Day 1 starter for Green Bay.” – Chris Burke (via SI.com)

“How long have we been saying the Packers needed to find their next big-play safety? At least since the end of last season, if not earlier. The only NFL team that did not get a single interception from a safety in 2013, the Packers have finally made a move to replace Nick Collins, who hasn’t played since his Packers career ended with his neck injury in Week 2 of the 2011 season.” – Rob Demovsky (via PackersNews.com)

“I’m very good on the post. I’m very good covering, helping out, double-teaming, whatever the case may be, I’m good at doing it. Like I said, when I get in there and learn that playbook and be comfortable and relax in myself and be consistent, I think I’ll be fine and help the Green Bay Packers win.” –Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (via JSOnline)

“It fit very well for us filling need and having best player available. We felt he was best player on board.” – Ted Thompson (via Packersnews.com)