Who Is Green Bay’s Other Starting Safety?

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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.

In 2012, head coach Mike McCarthy wanted to find a way to get his young safeties on the field.  Because Woodson was a versatile defender and the Packers lined up in nickel coverage often, it allowed the team to keep he and Burnett on the field while also giving some reps to both McMillian and Jennings.  According to ProFootballFocus, McMillian was on the field for more than half of the team’s defensive snaps between weeks two and five.  In week seven against the Rams, Woodson suffered the unfortunate collarbone injury that would sideline him until the postseason.  Suddenly, getting Jennings and McMillian on the field became a necessity versus a luxury.

Early in the season, McMillian showed some flashes of what the team had hoped for when they drafted him.  His speed and tenacity was helping him make plays.  In week two against the Bears and quarterback Jay Cutler, McMillian logged his first career interception.  In the week three game in Seattle, McMillian appeared to have made a very key interception during the fourth quarter.  The pick would likely have helped the Packers run out the clock and secure a win.  The play was called back due to a roughing the passer penalty and the interception was nullified, but it was another showcasing of what McMillian was capable of.

McMillian did also have his struggles.  He was slated to play a role in run support but he was average, at best, during the early part of the season.  After Woodson went down, the Packers opted to give Jennings more time opposite Burnett.  McMillian saw his snaps decrease and was virtually splitting time with Jennings.  By the time the postseason arrived, McMillian was on the field for a measly five total downs.  In the divisional round loss to the San Francisco 49ers, it is safe to say that none of the Packers defenders had played well and were left with higher goals in 2013.

Coming into this year’s offseason workouts, McMillian was prepared for whatever circumstance came his way.  Just prior to the draft, Tyler Dunne of the Journal-Sentinel published a piece on McMillian and his thoughts on whether or not the team would draft a safety.  He maintained that it was not going to affect his approach and that he would continue to work hard towards securing the other starting safety spot.  As mentioned earlier, Thompson tends to be partial towards his draftees and McMillian appears to have shown enough to garner that support.

A short while back, our own Marques Eversoll listed his top five Packers who are primed for a breakout season.  McMillian is listed fifth, although it was between he and defensive end Mike Neal.  With it becoming clear that the team will go with who they currently have at safety, they have to hope that McMillian can take that key step forward this season.

Size-wise, McMillian stands 5’11” and 207 lbs.  While he is a tad on the short side for your prototypical NFL safety, his abilities allow him to be just as effective.  McMillian has the speed to close on plays and with a year under his belt, he should be all the wiser in his coverage assignments.  That alone can help him make a jump and become a bigger contributor in the defensive backfield.

In comparing McMillian to Jennings and Ricardson, he is the more talented player and has proven to be durable.  Richardson battled injuries last season and was ultimately placed on injured reserve in early December.  Richardson has the size and measurables to be an NFL safety, but he is coming off of surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck this past January.  His health and ability to leapfrog both Jennings and McMillian will be a big question mark during this year’s training camp.  Jennings is listed at 6’0″ but is a bit on the smaller size, weighing in at around 190 lbs.  He saw significant time last season, but he isn’t as effective as McMillian in run support and has a tendency to get lost in coverage.

I have to think that Marques is on to something and I expect Jerron McMillian to stand head and shoulders above the others when the 2013 season starts.  If he does claim the starting role and both he and Burnett take the big step forward that the team is counting on, the Packers secondary will once again become one of the top units in the league.


Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.com

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23 thoughts on “Who Is Green Bay’s Other Starting Safety?

  1. IM really pulling for McMillian. I hope he can make that jump. The two big keys are run support and being in the right place on passing Downs. Please no finger pointing in the secondary.

  2. My gut tells me that we are thin at safety starting talent and we are one injury away from using the position as the reason for a failure on defense. Perhaps Micah Hyde will be “cross-trained” for this position.

    We have slowly rebuilt the D-line and we are building a strong OLB group. These I have confidence in. In my opinion, ILB and safety are the remaining missing pieces. I hope that some guys step up and we avoid the annual injury problems of the past couple of years.

    1. Ilb doesn’t bother me. I think Jones and manning will make the unit more athletic which is what they need. Hawk and Bishop just don’t have the athleticism to be every down ILB. Excited to see how it plays out.

      1. I think Bishop was plenty athletic at ILB, but we just don’t know how that hammy is going to look this year.

        I’m a pretty big Jones supporter, but I don’t want to see him on the field without the presence of either Hawk or Bishop. Manning may turn out great, scouts really liked him, but we fans haven’t seen anything at all from him as a LB in the NFL.

        Ideally, I’d love to see this season a rotation that puts either Hawk or Bishop on the field with Jones or Manning throughout the first half of the schedule (at least) while we find out how Bishop’s hamstring reacts, and as we learn what Terrel Manning really is when he’s out there under the lights.

        Perhaps by the last quarter of the season I’d feel comfortable seeing Jones and Manning out there together for anything more than a few snaps.

  3. I may be reading this wrong but all of those prospect safeties were taken by pick 33. Only Elam and cyprien were there at 26.

    1. The listing of these safety prospects was from the perspective of before the draft. Those were the top guys rumored to go in round 1 leading up to draft day.

      1. I had only Vacarro as a sure 1st. Had Reid as borderline 1st, Cyprien and Elam top to mid 2nd round. Loved Reid, but IMO the 9ers reached and probably could have sat at 31 and gotten him. IMO if you draft a Safety in the 1st he better be a playmaker w/o any real holes in his game, otherwise he isn’t a sure 1st round pick.

  4. You can’t be solid and deep at every position. If it’s between DL and S, I’ll choose to be solid and deep at DL.

    That being said, I think McMillian will be a good starting safety and based on last year, I think both Jennings and Richardson (if healthy) are fine as backups.

  5. so let me see… the following positions have major question marks…

    olb opp. cmiii


    yup… sure looks like a contending team to me.

    1. Major question marks? A major question mark would be having to start a rookie. Major would be starting a lifetime special teamer. We pretty much know what we’re getting from each position. S – A rising Burnett and decent starters opposite. ILB – Jones played well beside Hawk. Neither are word beaters, but we know what is there. We know what is there opposite CMIII, just questions of it being “the next step”.

      Major questions…all the positions you listed have questions, sure, just not major questions. Mason Crosby is probably the only major question.

    2. the question mark is why do you even look at this site… You make it less enjoyable because you just want to get a rise out of people… please go write on a viqueens page please. They don’t really care about their team.

  6. Don’t be dumb, this is not the lions or the viqueen’s,this is the GREEN BAY PACKERS,a GREAT organization. The same team that went 15-1,and should have been 12-4 last season,they will only be better this season on def.and, off. Woodson, was on the dwn side the de line will put a lot of pressure on the QB and the OL,should be more consistent with the switch.

  7. Lately, the Packers have been cross-training many of their players at several different positions. I agree with Mr. Razor who commented earlier, “Perhaps Micah Hyde will be “cross-trained” for this position.” Anyone who takes a look at the backfield of the Seahawks and 49ers is hard-pressed not to envy their large, fast, physical backfield. All of their cornerbacks and safeties are young, talented, good football players. My point is why not try to cross-train some of the Packers players who could contribute to the safety position? I’m talking about players who are considered to be tweeners (talented, instinctive, athletic, in-between players who can play multiple positions).

    For instance, take ILB Terrell Manning who is 6’2″, 230 pounds and runs a 4.7 40-yard dash. Sadly, his entire rookie season last year was plagued by a series stomach ailment — colitis. Why not give him a try at safety? The Seahawks CB, Brandon Browner, is 6’4″, 221 pounds and clocks in a 4.6 to 4.7 40-yard dash. I say give guys like T. Manning and other Packers who could cross-train like this a shot at the safety position. Dom Capers likes to switch it up and confuse opposing teams with all sorts of various defensive chicanery, especially on the D-line and with the linebacking corps. Go for it in the defensive backfield too.

    1. I guess I’d respond to “Why not give Manning a shot at S?” with,

      “Because he’s a LB not a S, and there is probably a reason for it.”

      I’m not saying it’s not possible he could make the transition, but I’ll go ahead and say there is nothing in Manning’s player bio that suggests he’s got the experience or the coverage skills to play safety. Most scouting reports don’t talk about his coverage skills at all; some listed one of his weaknesses as taking bad angles and failing to consistently square up to ball carriers and securely wrap up while tackling. Those are not things you want to hear about your safety.

      1. In other words, the numbers are nice, but they don’t say a lick about skill set.. It would be easy to plug in athletes from all sorts of sports into the NFL if it was just a matter of how tall, heavy, strong and fast a guy was.

        It’s not remotely that easy.

    2. Manning is 240+. I don’t know where you get the 230 number, but he is a similar more athletic version of Bishop. Maybe we should try Bishop at Safety. Manning is a very good run player that has the athletic ability to be good in coverage, but has little experience doing it as a LB.

      Packers have McMillan and Richardson who are both physical players that are at least somewhat experienced at Safety in coverage. Both will get a chance to become a starter this year and next. Both run in the 4.4’s instead of 4.7 that Manning runs or the 4.8 that Bishop does.

  8. Really hoping that McMillan steps up. That would be huge for this D. Plus, with Jones on the Line and with Perry , and maybe Bishop coming back fron IR, this D will be better. Manning comming on will only help.

    Two things that must not happen. .injuries to M. Burnett or CM3

  9. Cow is wrong – there aren’t major questions at 10 positions.

    However, there are major questions at 2: S and RT.

    If one of those safeties doesn’t step up we are screwed.

    ps- Jason… please don’t ever remind me again of TT not giving up a 3rd rounder for Lynch.. in favor of Starks/Jackson/Kuhn… ever again.

    1. It would have taken our 2nd to get Lynch. We all wish we could have gotten him, but in the end Seattle was in a better position to get Lynch than the Packers were. Packers offer a 4th. Seattle offers their 4th which is more valuable. Packers offer a 3rd. Seattle offers their 3rd, which again is more valuable. Where does it end. Thompson made a decision and offered what he was worth and Seattle went higher. If Thompson offers more Seattle goes high. No point in cry over spilt milk. Seattle was going to get Lynch before the Packers, nothing was going to prevent it.

      1. “nothing was going to prevent it.”… other than the Packers deciding that they were going to give more than Seattle.

        which they could have done.

        which they probably regret.

        1. Maybe, maybe not… We did win the SB w/o Lynch! How many SB does Seattle have since getting Lynch? Yeah, NONE!

          Even if Thompson gives a 1st, Seattle has a higher 1st. I doubt Thompson has any regret at all. He has the SB ring, he doesn’t have to…

          You put a limit on how far your willing to go(just like Poker) and let the chips fall where they may. Thompson won the bet!

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