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.

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.

24

January

Sean Richardson Green Bay Packers 2013 Evaluation and Report Card

Sean Richardson

Sean Richardson

1) Introduction:  Green Bay Packers safety Sean Richardson made it off of the physically unable to perform list after having surgery for a herniated disc in early 2013.  He appeared in six games for the Packers in 2013, including the wild card playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers.  Richardson played well enough to split time with M.D. Jennings down the stretch and should be in the mix for a roster spot in 2014, even if the team drafts or acquires a safety.  My grades for Richardson will be slightly inflated, as he did not appear in as many games.

2) Profile:

Seandre Antonio Richardson

  • Age: 24
  • Born: 1/20/1990 in Fort Campbell, TN
  • Height: 6’02″
  • Weight: 216
  • College: Vanderbilt
  • Rookie Year: 2012
  • NFL Experience: 2 years

Career Stats and more

3) Expectations coming into the season:  With a neck injury, there is always an amount of uncertainty regarding a player’s ability to return and play.  With Green Bay’s ultra conservative medical staff, it’s even more uncertain.  Richardson was cleared to return to action during the back half of the season and was expected to provide depth at safety as well as on special teams.

4) Player’s highlights/low-lights: In Richardson’s case and given his neck injury, the highlight was simply being medically cleared to return to football and the Packers.  According to Pro Football Focus, Richardson graded out at a +.5 overall, which doesn’t tell us much about the impact that he had.  Statistically, his best game came against the Pittsburgh Steelers while his worst was just one week later in the regular season finale against the Chicago Bears.  Neither were memorable and in Richardson’s case, that is not the worst thing.

5) Player’s contribution to the overall team success:  After his return, Richardson appeared in 36% of the team’s defensive snaps.  He wasn’t on the field enough for us to make a major assessment of his future value to the team but his size is something the Packers like.  Because Richardson was active for less than half of this season, he was not a big contributor in his play, but he did get Jennings off the field a bit (bad humor, I know).

6) Player’s contributions in the playoffs:  Richardson was credited with a stop against the 49ers in limited action.  He was not much of a factor due to his lack of familiarity with the 49ers as well as his progression since his return from injury.

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.

27

August

Packers Cut Roster to 75 Players

Packers GM Ted Thompson

Packers GM Ted Thompson made his roster cuts on Tuesday to make the 75-player limit.

The Green Bay Packers announced on Tuesday afternoon that their roster had been reduced to 75 players, per NFL rules. Four players were placed on injured reserve, four were placed on the PUP (physically unable to perform), and one was released. The players removed from the active roster were:

  • T Bryan Bulaga (IR)
  • WR Kevin Dorsey (IR)
  • RB DuJuan Harris (IR)
  • LB Jarvis Reed (IR)
  • S Sean Richardson (PUP)
  • T Derek Sherrod (PUP)
  • T J.C. Tretter (PUP)
  • DE Jerel Worthy (PUP)
  • K Zach Ramirez (released)

This is in addition to the six players already released since Saturday:

  • QB Graham Harrell
  • WR Justin Wilson
  • WR Omarius Hines
  • WR Alex Gillett
  • DL Gilbert Peña
  • RB Angelo Pease
  • K Giorgio Tavecchio

The players placed on injured lists (PUP and IR) were largely expected to end up there. DuJuan Harris was the one surprising move reported earlier this afternoon. Zach Ramirez was somewhat surprising considering his very recent signing; however, Packers beat reporters noted that he only made 6 of 16 field goal attempts during today’s practice. Mason Crosby connected on all 14 of his, suggesting that he might have finally won the preseason battle for good.

One more important note is that players placed on injured reserve today can not be “Designated for Return” later on in the season. This means that Bryan Bulaga and DuJuan Harris are effectively done for the year. Players on the PUP, as always, will have the opportunity to return to practice six weeks into the regular season.

Ted Thompson and the Packers must further reduce the roster to 53 players by the end of business on Saturday, August 31st.

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Chad Toporski, a Wisconsin native and current Pittsburgh resident, is a writer for AllGreenBayPackers.com. You can follow Chad on twitter at @ChadToporski

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31

May

Who Is Green Bay’s Other Starting Safety?

Packers rookie S Jerron McMillian

McMillian appears to be a frontrunner to claim one of the starting safety spots

One of the position battles that is and will continue to be a heavy focus in Green Bay is at safety.  Entrenched in one starting role is Morgan Burnett, who enters his fourth season and appears poised to take a step forward in becoming one of the team’s best defensive players.  The other safety position is still up for grabs amongst Jerron McMillian, M.D. Jennings and Sean Richardson.  This week, the team also signed undrafted free agent David Fulton from Chowan University (in North Carolina for those wondering).

With safety having been one of the team’s bigger needs heading into last month’s draft, the question seemed to be not “if” but “when” they would address the position.  Among the top prospects were Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro, LSU’s Eric Reid, Florida International’s Jonathan Cyprien and Florida’s Matt Elam.  Surely one of those would be available when Green Bay picked at the 26th spot.  That pick came and went, along with 10 others, and not one safety was selected.

Packers General Manager Ted Thompson has had a knack for standing pat at a position that he feels already has the depth and talent necessary to be effective.  In 2010 and after starting running back Ryan Grant went down early in the season, the team seemingly needed another option.  Marshawn Lynch and DeAngelo Williams were both rumored to be available via trade.  Instead, Thompson stuck with the rotation of Brandon Jackson, John Kuhn and James Starks.  It’s no secret, by now, that Thompson prefers his own players and to develop them versus playing in free agency year in and year out.  It appears that the Packers are, once again, exercising that mindset at safety.

Just prior to the draft, the Packers parted ways with long-time veteran Charles Woodson, who was moved to safety before last season.  That left a hole and only raised more speculation that the team would look to add a safety early in the draft.  Instead, they entered this spring’s organized team activities with Burnett, McMillian, Jennings and Richardson all splitting reps at practice.