Ten Packers Training Camp Topics: #4 — McMillian vs. Jennings

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M.D. Jennings will battle Jerron McMillian for a starting spot. Who will win the job?
M.D. Jennings will battle Jerron McMillian for a starting spot. Who will win the job?

Packers safety Morgan Burnett just signed a four-year extension that will keep him in Green Bay for the foreseeable future. But the starting spot alongside Burnett remains very much up for grabs.

Jerron McMillian, a fourth-round pick in 2012, will compete with M.D. Jennings to be the starter, replacing Charles Woodson who is now with the Oakland Raiders. The Packers got a glimpse of life after Woodson when the veteran broke his collarbone against the St. Louis Rams last season.

Between the two, the Packers have a physical run defender in McMillian and a rangy cover man in Jennings. Combining the duo’s best attributes would be a recipe for a talented safety, but unfortunately for the team, only one of the two can be on the field in most situations.

Last season, Jennings was the direct victim of Lance Easley’s infamous touchdown call against the Seattle Seahawks. And for that exact reason, many football fans across the country now recognize his name.

But as proven by his 72-yard pick-six against the Detroit Lions, Jennings is capable of being a turnover producer on the back end.

McMillian, on the other hand, excels as a run defender. Despite weighing just over 200 pounds, McMillian isn’t afraid to take on a pulling 300-pound lineman head on. If McMillian can show significant improvement tracking the football in the air, the job may be his to lose, simply because of his undeniable physical advantage over Jennings.

At last year’s NFL Scouting Combine, McMillian clocked a 4.47 40-yard dash and posted a 36.5″ vertical leap at 203 pounds. Jennings is on the smallish side for a safety, tipping the scales at just 187.

Jennings played two more snaps (616) than McMillian (614) last season. And without Woodson in the fold, more playing time will be up for grabs in the secondary.

Question: Who will be the starter alongside Morgan Burnett? McMillian or Jennings?

This, along with running back and right tackle, will be one of the more compelling training-camp battles. McMillian has the edge physically, but Jennings has shown more polishas a pass defender. The competition will likely come down to who shows more improvement: Jennings as a run defender or McMillian in pass coverage.

Despite playing nearly the same amount of snaps, McMillian (+1.4) graded out significantly better than Jennings (-1.4), according to Pro Football Focus. Somewhat surprisingly, McMillian also graded out higher (+2.5) than Jennings (+1.8) in pass coverage.

Best guess: Jerron McMillian

As a rookie taken in the middle rounds, McMillian showed he belonged in the NFL with his physical style of play. He dropped a couple easy interceptions, which is an area he’ll need to improve in if he’s going to be an every-down player for the Packers.

But comparing the two, I think there’s more to be excited about with McMillian than there is with Jennings. In fact, I think McMillian is one of five Packers who could break out in 2013.


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Marques is a Journalism student, serving as the Sports Editor of UW-Green Bay\'s campus newspaper The Fourth Estate and a Packers writer at Jersey Al\'s AllGBP.com. Follow Marques on Twitter @MJEversoll.


15 thoughts on “Ten Packers Training Camp Topics: #4 — McMillian vs. Jennings

  1. Have to believe McMillan wins the competition. His deficiencies are something that can be learned, whereas Jennings lack of size/strength will always limit him. McMillan has to prove that he knows the coverages and where he needs to be on every play call. He has Burnett to lean on and to call the plays/adjustments. Assuming McMillan has gotten in his playbook and learned the scheme better he should easily win this competition. I don’t think it’ll even be close really.

    1. Lately, I’ve agreed with you far too often, Stroh. I’d be quite surprised if Jennings wins this competition.

      I interviewed Anthony Smith a few weeks ago, and he basically said exactly that. Ball skills can improve over time, but you can’t teach a player to want to hit. McMillian likes to hit. Not that Jennings doesn’t, but he’s not nearly as physical.

      1. Contrary to popular belief I don’t mind when people agree w/ me. 🙂

        Anthony Smith? Is that the former Pitts Safety Anthony Smith, that was in GB for a training camp?

  2. I’m pulling for Mcmillan, we need more guys who like to tackle, we already have enough that don’t:)

  3. Conflicting thoughts…MM says players make a big jump between the first and second year. If M.D. already showed that growth, combined with McMillan about to go through it, gotta believe the scales are in McMillan’s favor.

    Blogged a while ago was the history of 4th year safeties making a tremendous improvement. Neither fall into this category.

  4. McMillan has the tools to become a good all around safety. But he has to take a big jump in knowledge of NFL schemes this year. It’s not like Mains was a football factory…

    1. “It’s not like Mains was a football factory…”

      Neither was William and Mary (Darren Sharper) or Bethune Cookman (Nick Collins) and they did pretty well for themselves.

  5. FWIW, McMillian posted a 4.35 forty at his pro day, take that with a grain of salt of course, but the kid has genuine wheels to go along with his love of hitting. If he can work on his angles a bit, he has a chance to be just as rangy- or maybe even more so- than Jennings.

    McMillian looks to be cut from the same cloth as Collins was in some respects- a guy who is such a physical specimen at the S position, but you are kind of rolling the dice and hoping the small school kid will have it all click at the next level. If it does all come together, McMillian/Burnett could be a pretty good duo in the defensive backfield for years to come.

    Such a shame we never really got to see Burnett/Collins play at a high level together. That could have been a legendary pairing.

    1. Collins was a terrific athlete at Safety, I wouldn’t say he was a physical specimen. Collins was known as a ball hawk w/ outstanding range, not a physical lay the wood to a WR across the middle Punishing hitter. He was or became a good tackler, but that wasn’t his forte.

  6. Thanks oppy, now I’m bummed about what could have been. I think McMillian wins the spot. He has two things the Packers need in their defense. Speed and Power. If he runs that fast he can make up a lot of ground. Doc just isn’t big enough to strike fear in a receiver coming over the middle.

    1. Killing the guy coming across the middle of the field is quickly becoming a thing of the past, though.

      The new safe NFL is making sure of that, unfortunately.

      The future is probably coverage safeties that have ball skills. They will still be needed for run support, but the NFL has players and coaches scared to wallup the receivers- they don’t even know what’s allowed anymore, and too often they are getting fined and giving up major yards and downs due to penalty.

      I sincerely hope the NFL can get it all straightened out and clarified for the players and coaches that make up the league, so everyone can confidently coach and play in a way that is easily identified as “allowed” and “Illegal”.

      1. The game is much to fast for it to ever be easily identified as “allowed” and “illegal”. Unless the officials are allowed to see replays before calling a penalty the ref will continue to flag first and figure it out later. Big hits are going to be penalized almost no matter what, unfortunately.

  7. This D needs the young guys to step up this year. D Jones and Perry are keys to improving the front 7. Hayward and House will be improved at corner. That leaves the open safety spot to be filled by an improved youngster..This is very important and will round out this D. The powers to be must like what they see, because they didn’t draft a safety in a safety loaded draft. I hope they’re right. The D could be much improved this year. I expect by mid season, we may have something to be happy about. Throw in a motivated Raji and Neal, with Pickett, a more experienced Brad jones and of course Mathews, this could be fun to watch

    Of course this is a big if, and SF O-line and running game, in the opener,will give us a reminder of what its going to take to beat teams in the playoffs.

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