Safety First: Packers’ offseason needs start in secondary All Green Bay Packers All the Time
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.

Ted Thompson’s track record in free agency as Packers general manager suggests it’s unlikely they will address the safety position before the draft, but it’s possible that this year could be different. After Jarius Byrd of the Buffalo Bills and T.J. Ward of the Cleveland Browns–whom will both likely be out of the Packers’ price range–several affordable veterans could catch Thompson’s eye.

Both New Orleans’ Malcolm Jenkins, 26, and the Giants’ Stevie Brown, 26, will have a more reasonable price tag than the top-tier guys and either would provide an upgrade over anyone who played alongside Burnett in 2013, specifically in pass coverage. Baltimore’s James Ihedigbo, 30, Tennessee’s Bernard Pollard, 29, and San Francisco’s Donte Whitner, 28, are also scheduled to hit the open market and would provide some physicality to the Packers’ defensive backfield alongside Burnett.

The most likely solution to the Packers’ problem at safety is addressing it via the draft. And armed with the 21st overall pick in the first round, the Packers may be in position to grab the draft’s top safety come May.

Alabama safety HaHa Clinton-Dix (6-1 207) boasts the most politically hilarious name in American history and looks like a Day 1 pick, although he’s not the can’t-miss prospect he was once thought to be. Louisville’s Calvin Pryor (6-2 208) will likely continue to rise on draft boards as the draft approaches; I’m among those who think Pryor will make a better NFL safety than Clinton-Dix. Pryor is the total package.

(While I’m not ready to label him this year’s Gio Bernard just yet, brace yourself for a plethora of Pryor hype over the next four months.)

One way or another, the Packers need to make some changes at safety this offseason. Maybe the issue will be masked by a simple position change by someone on the roster (Hyde) or perhaps one or two new guys will be brought in.

Either way, the offseason is now for the Packers and 27 other teams. And need No. 1 for the team in Green Bay is safety.


Follow @MJEversoll

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 Follow Marques on Twitter @MJEversoll.


45 thoughts on “Safety First: Packers’ offseason needs start in secondary

  1. Green Bay has zero intimidation on the defensive side of the ball. Nobody from the back end or ILB position flys to the ball to blow up the ball carrier. I wouldn’t mind seeing every now and then a safety or LB take a 15 yard personal foul early in the game to let the opposing WR’s know that when they catch that ball they will be getting whacked.

    1. On the flip side…WRs also know the safety can’t afford too many of those PF hits in a game.
      Give me a guy who hits hard in the manner that allows him to continue hitting hard and not hurt the team.

    2. Intimidation is gone from the game of Football… Unfortunately! Now even a great hit in the chest will draw a penalty, but that hit will cause the head to snap forward then back. The officials will throw a flag on ANY big hit now. It SUCKS!

  2. Currently, neither our S nor our ILB are close enough to the receiver to deliver a blow. They do get called for holding penalties from behind…. Would that work for you? GoPack!

    1. Ha’Sean? Seriously? What is it with the names of these guys? Did the nurse walk in on the day before checkout and hand their Mom a scrabble cup?

    2. General rule of thumb – don’t put an apostrophe in a name. Ask Vic S’oto what happen to those letters after the ‘s’.

  3. Hyde seemed to excel in any position he was asked to play. He seems capable and willing to be a great safety. History would say that with injuries we need more than two safeties. I don’t understand that if we were prepared to give Raji $8 million per year, why would we not bag Raji and pay a top tier safety to come in. Also, a high drafted safety would solve the third safety spot. Banjo and Richardson have been serviceable but Jennings has been just a liability. I am excited to see the answer to these questions as it is certain that we lack in this area. The fact that not one Packer safety had an interception this past season is reason for change.

    1. I beat the horse about moving Hyde to Safety until it died earlier this year. And then beat it a little more. That move would have bumped up the snaps for Hyde, House and Bush while bumping down the snaps for Jennings, McMillian, Banjo and Richardson. I think that would have made the defense better by a lot.

      Even Bush looked better on defense than those 4 Safeties. I didn’t think it was possible to make Jarrett Bush look good by comparison. But that sad sack lot that lined up next to Burnett proved my lack of imagination in the category of Safety Suckitude.

      1. Firm believer that kind of change must happen in the offseason. I don’t think you want to take a young player who is doing well and put them in a new position and risk having their confidence crushed.

        1. That may be true under normal circumstances. But the play at Safety this year was abnormally horrific.

          If getting beat is going to turn them into a shrinking violet, they are not long for the NFL in the first place.

          1. I understand the “what do you have to lose” argument, but if you move Hyde, the play at Safety doesn’t improve (or even gets worse) because of his inexperience and lack of camp at the position, you lose what was solid play at slot corner, and you stunt the development of a quality player, what do you gain?

            Aren’t you as likely to be better with a sub-par player with more reps at safety and a better player in his natural position? Playing with one hole to fill rather than 2?

        2. Completely agree. Thats a move you make in the offseason. Definitely NOT during the season! Would cause more problems duing the season and make matters worse even if its already bad.

    2. Don’t know I would say he was excelling. He played well and should get better. I agree he would be a good safety in fact I think that’ll be his best position.

  4. That’s strange, our current safety contingent also went by ha-ha – their play was a joke, altough not many packer fans were laughing. I agree with you Marques. We need before the start of next season at least one more starting caliber safety, one more starting caliber inside lb, and back-up depth at cb. With that, and re-signing shields and one or two of our own d-linemen. I’m liking our defense. Well, at least as much as I could like a Capers-lead defense.

  5. Wouldn’t put it past TT to trade down out of the first round and ignore free agency as well. Change is SCARY why try it, right Ted…

    1. Big T, you made my heart skip a beat. But, in reality, there is a very good chance TT does just that! If he does ignore free agency and chooses not to plug the many holes on defense, he should be fired.

      1. I’m not willing to draw lines in the sand with TT. The overall product is the biggest issue, IMO. That has been consistently good for his tenure. They covered up Charlie Peprah on the way to a Lombardi. If you buy the comments at post-season press conferences, MM believe that was possible this year. I did too. As long as I keep believing that, I’m good with the GM.

        But failure to recognize the issue and take steps to correct it would definitely be marks against TT. Everyone sees it. Only one guy can do something about it. If he doesn’t do much, I’d have more doubts about another Lombardi. Enough of them and I’d be ok with change.

        1. The last time TT traded out of round 1 the Packers ‘needed’ a receiver and they wound up picking Jordy Nelson. WRs picked just ahead of him turned out to be busts.

          Anybody willing to criticize that move now?

          Why pay a 1st round pick if you can get a better player after trading down?

          Not saying that will happen, just that its foolish to go around saying ‘TT should be fired if…’ before we know what players are available with our pick.

          1. When you’re drafting 26-30, most of those guys are virtually interchangeable with 2nd round guys anyway.

            At #21, you’re looking at sliding talent, emerging talent, maybe the proven college player that lacks a single measurable.

            I think trading down from #21 is fundamentally different from even #26. And you’re right: that might not even be apparent until the Packers are on the clock.

      2. It’s what will most likely happen John, except for getting fired. I’d think Raji is gone after last year, 2010 was a long time ago when he was worth big money. It’s probable that Pickett or Raji are gone, maybe both. It’s not certain Jolly even returns, though I can’t see him playing elsewhere.

        The Packers have a lot of FA at key positions. I mean look at TE. If Quarless goes who do the Packers have left? Can’t and shouldn’t count on Finley being here or even being able to play. Can’t count on Perry or Matthews to even stay on the field, they haven’t the last two years and depth is needed there. Is the Neal the answer? If EDS leaves the Packers have another position where they wouldn’t have experiance. Lots of questions only so much money.

        1. ” Lots of questions only so much money.”

          So true. It’s very possible that none of us has anywhere near the knowledge or awareness required to manage an NFL salary cap. We know what we would LIKE to see done, and that varies from person to person.

          We see open cap space and want to see it used up…but hopefully in our personal lives we don’t live in that way. We save for the future. We budget for unforeseen expenses. We decide not to paint the house this year and hope we can get to next year’s budget so that we can re-pave the driveway this year. There’s money to do some things, but when you fix A, it might require that you skimp on B. The pricier A is, the more likely B ends up pushed back.

    2. Ummm…shouldn’t we be elated if TT trades back? Collins, Jennings, Nelson, Cobb, Hayward, Lacy? Trade back with the 1st rounder and trade up and load up on 2nd rounders Ted baby (I’m a little kidding)! TT has had 13 2nd rounders. My opined count has 6 as studs or have shown that ability, 4 “just a guy” types (Worthy, Neal, Jackson, Colledge), 2 busts (Lee and Brohm), and 1 lost to a career ending injury w/o knowing his ability.

      1. Not to mention that with 17 FAs, a few extra picks can’t hurt when it comes to filling out the roster.

    3. You never know when someone is going to fall in love with a player and throw half their draft at you (or picks and a player you covet) for #23…

  6. Safety is a need, no doubt, but I think DL and ILB are the most pressing.

    If the Packers want to get creative with Hyde, they can convert him like they were going to do Woodson. If not, Richardson has shown promise. (As an aside, I see Hyde being on the field Week 1 as a litmus test to see if the Packers are doing the right “self scouting”).

    I think Ted would love it if Nix or Mosley dropped to him. Both can learn next to veterans but still make their presences felt.

    Also, it would sure be a treat if I never have to see Brad Jones take another terrible angle on a missed tackle again.

    1. Hyde’s biggest limitation is his (lack of) top end speed. He has NO recovery speed for a CB. Safeties are not required to be as fast. When you factor in Hyde’s physicality (for his size) and his work ethic, a move to S seems like a great pick. That way, if one of the top 2 safeties fall to GB great. If not, no big deal.

      If TT brings Shields back and moves Hyde to S, we still need a developmental S and CB – but it mitigates the need to press. Then IF Richardson pans out, great, if not, no problem.

      ILB’s can be had in round 2/3 that are quite effective. There’s no “can’t miss” prospect out there at ILB this year, so why rush it?

      Now TE? NT? THOSE are spots that need to be paid for in the draft. No one lets those big guys go if they’re worth keeping (which says a lot about Raji in Dom’s scheme BTW).

      I’d be a big fan of Nix or Amaro in round 1.

      1. I would say Mosley is pretty much a “can’t miss” ILB. At least as much as there can ever be. He’s got everything you want in an ILB. Good coverage, Speed is very good. OUTSTANDING instincts. IMO he’ll be like a Bowman or Daryl Washington. Mosley is gonna be a great ILB IMO.

  7. We need a safety who can play the position effectively and deliver a hit (legal of course). At this point I would actually prefer the right veteran FA plus one of the top safeties in draft. Why both? Because I’m not confident at all that Burnett can handle the position and simultaneously bring along a rookie during the development phase. A veteran can first, get the job done on the field and secondly help develop both Burnett and rookie, with Hyde as a backup. If we go with Burnett and a rookie I am concerned that we are recreating this season’s 3,ring circus with new players. Due to his recent contract, I realize that we can’t give up on Burnett, but if 2014 is not a breakout season for him we probably need to move on. Thanks, Since ’61

  8. You mentioned that we may lose both Williams and Shields. Isn’t Williams still under contract? If we lose Shields, i do not see TT also letting Williams walk. Williams played good down the stretch and if shields is gone, i don’t see TT letting Williams go even if he won’t take a pay cut. If they sign Shields, then TT will ask Williams to take a pay cut and if he doesn’t, then they may cut Williams.

    It’s a must that we land a quality Safety that can play immediately

  9. The Lack of pass rush makes the safety position seem to be a problem. Because of the no touch rule on receivers if you don’t rush the passer and give him all day to throw the ball uninterrupted the safety’s no matter who they are will look bad. Yes you still need talent at safety but The receivers are getting taller an d faster so these 6 ft. or 6ft 1 inch defenders are not able to stay with the receivers forever while the passers scan the field for 5 to 10 seconds. So the combination of no pass rush and untalented safety’s killed the packers. The packer defenders are undisciplined. They are not playing their assignments because they are always chasing the ball. They do that because the defensive line isn’t stopping the run. So first the line needs to do it’s job with the rush or getting into the back field, then the safety’s can concentrate on their assignments.

    1. I found this on some other site that I thought put the Packers Safety play in perspective. I have no idea if these stats are accurate, but after watching every game, it seems about right.

      Safeties Morgan Burnett and M.D. Jennings were targeted 60 times in 2013 in which they allowed 46 passes to be completed for 612 yards, 9 touchdowns and a dismal 148.1 passer rating. Even worse, Burnett was the only safety in the NFL who played for at least 900 snaps and didn’t record a single interception, while Jennings was the only safety in the league who suited up for 800 snaps and didn’t defend one pass. On top of that, neither of them forced a fumble.

    2. I feel like a broken record by bringing this back up.

      The Packers were in the top quarter of the league this year in sacks and in sack pct. (sacks per opponent dropbacks, not including kneeldowns). We lose track of the fact that the Packers DID have success in getting to the QB and that the majority of the team sacks came from the LB position, as they should in a 3-4.

      I feel that we are mistaking the key, game-changing sack for QB pressure in general.

    1. But, in all honesty, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Packers decide to ride with Richardson and Banjo and perhaps a mid-late round pick at the position and address other needs early in the draft this off-season.

      I don’t expect TT to sign one of the high-profile FA safeties. Would be nice if he did because I think a quality safety would help Burnett’s play and make a dramatic difference in the defense in general. I think he’ll focus money on the DL situation, Shields, and keeping some of the skill position guys.

      You can’t do everything. You can’t pay everyone. You can’t stockpile all positions. You have to decide where you’re going to invest. My belief is that the current state of the NFL makes it so a single outstanding unit (Offense, defense) complemented by at least an average unit makes you a SB contender. What’s more, rule changes favor the offense, and with a QB like ARod, it makes sense to build the offense.

  10. According to ProFootballTalk, Titans safety Michael Griffin may be a cap casualty this off-season. May be something to keep an eye on assuming Thompson is willing to explore some options in free agency this year…

  11. If Calvin Pryor is the safety for the job. With the NFL ready body & coming from Louisville’s defensive minded coach. He’ll be ready for all the recognition & decision making that comes with the SS. Plus he’s like an extra linebacker on the field!

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