When you have an injury list as long as the Green Bay Packers had last season, there are several potential candidates for the team’s Comeback Player of the Year award in 2014.
Will Bryan Bulaga return to form? Could Casey Hayward resume his rise to the top of the list as one of the league’s best young corners after an injury-plagued sophomore season? Could Jermichael Finley or Johnny Jolly somehow come back from neck surgery and contribute again?
All would be great stories, but the Packers’ greatest comeback from a player in 2014 very likely may come from a player that played most of last season but struggled badly. He’s a player that once showed great promise, but had a brutal season in 2013.
That player is safety Morgan Burnett.
It is no secret that the Packers had terrible safety play in 2013. The combination of Burnett and the now (thankfully) departed M.D. Jennings was the league’s worst last season with neither safety producing an interception or a forced fumble. The position was the Achilles heel of the Green Bay defense (along with the aforementioned injuries) and it was at the top of the list of positions general manager Ted Thompson had to improve this offseason.
Thompson responded by not re-signing Jennings (who later signed with the Chicago Bears) and drafting Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix from Alabama in the NFL Draft a few weeks ago. These two moves alone have already improved the Packers at the safety position.
But what of Burnett? Well, after the 2012 season he signed a new contract with Green Bay worth $24.75 million over four years with $8.25 million guaranteed. Thompson is not about to just dump that contract only a year after it was signed, no matter how poor the performance was in 2013.
Burnett had a rough 2013, but there is every reason to expect a strong rebound from him this season. Burnett functions best when he is opposite a strong free safety and Jennings was not that. Since he was drafted in 2010, Burnett spent his first full season and the first part of his second learning from Nick Collins. Collins was one of the league’s best safeties and his neck injury in 2011 sent the Green Bay defense into a tailspin from which it still has yet to fully recover from.
After Collins went down, Burnett became a full-time starter and played alongside Charlie Peprah and Charles Woodson. While neither were the caliber of Collins at the safety position (Woodson of course being a potential Hall of Fame player at cornerback), they were still serviceable enough that Burnett was still able to show some potential.
In his first full season as a starter in 2011, he had three interceptions, one sack and had 107 combined tackles. Burnett followed that up in 2012 with two interceptions, two sacks and 123 combined tackles. Both those seasons saw Burnett starting opposite Woodson or Peprah.
Woodson and Peprah both were out of Green Bay heading into 2013 and Burnett said said starting beside Jennings. Burnett’s results for 2013? Zero interceptions, zero sacks and 96 combined tackles. After signing the aforementioned contract before the season began, Burnett had a dud performance last year.
What these numbers prove, if anything, is that is Burnett benefits from having a competent safety playing opposite him and Jennings was a prime example of incompetence in 2013. Jennings could rarely turn his head to see the ball, let alone make a play on it. He was unproven last season and he showed the Packers he couldn’t get the job done.
Burnett has shown enough flashes that Thompson felt warranted to sign him to that contract after 2012 and he certainly was justified. The Packers don’t need Burnett to be Nick Collins, they just need him to be solid.
With the drafting of Clinton-Dix, the Packers have a smart player and a true “center field” type of safety. He also may not be Collins but anything would be an improvement over what Green Bay got from their safeties in 2013. That alone should help the Packers show visible improvement on defense.
If Clinton-Dix just makes a a few interceptions and is a fundamental tackler, then the Packers should be fine and Burnett should improve as well. He has shown the ability to be a strong player and can hit when he has to. Competent play opposite him should allow Burnett to recapture the potential he showed in 2011 and 2012.
Burnett may not make the Pro Bowl but that would stop him from potentially earning Comeback Player of the year or at the very least Most Improved.
The Packers and their fans are counting on it.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke
23 thoughts on “Will Morgan Burnett Rebound For the Packers in 2014?”
As you point out, Burnett has the talent to play. How well he plays extends beyond his skill set. If the Packers don’t get pressure/run stop from the front 6 or 7 then our secondary will always be drawn in to give support. We have not had the NFL caliber safeties to complete our secondary but so too have we been missing strong ILBs and athletic D linemen. It is more a case of missing pieces rather than a missing piece. Here’s hoping that we have added the pieces going into 2014
Agreed. The ILB is still the apparent weakness of the dfense at this point. Unless this is upgraded to where ILBs have the athleticism and speed to track TE and receivers, it will still stress the capabilities of Safeties, and as result, they’ll still have average numbers. Maybe Clinton-Dix and Burnett make it happen this year, but most likely…we’ll keep debating all 2014 whether the dbacks just average stats are because they are average or the blame should fall on front 7 (or ILB). Plug in a sideline-to-sideline ILB, and we’ll settle it once and for all and I’d bet the safeties and corners will all be pro-bowl caliber. Should have drafted Alec Ogletree last year.
Burnette’s problem is he has not shown that he possesses the mental and physical toughness to demand the respect needed to play the strong safety position. I recall countless times wherein he was timid in his coming up to take on the run. I see the SS position as an “Enforcer” role where the player strikes fear in the opponent. Frankly, Burnette plays like a “wuss.” In order for him to really make an impact he needs to major “toughen” up!
The “enforcer” is a thing of the past. You can’t even hit a WR that leaps to catch a pass anymore. You have to wait for him to land before you can tackle him, and you can’t hit him either for fear his head will move and get a major penalty/fine.
I don’t know… I’ve gotten the impression that Green Bay is miscasting Burnett in a strong safety type of role, when I think his skill set suggests he would be better in the deep middle. His reputation in college was as a ball-hawking safety who racked up a lot of interceptions.
Isn’t measuring the number of big plays allowed a better measure of a Safety’s performance? Interceptions and tackles are often a direct result of the performance (or lack thereof) of the front 7.
Kris, no question that Burnett and the safety position is the biggest question on the defense and probably the entire team for 2014. Good job on the article. First, Burnett has to take responsibility for his own play and his position. Either he improves in 2014 or he’s gone. Having said that, a healthier defense and improved play from the DL and ILB’s will improve the overall play of the defense in 2014 including the safeties. The front 7 needs to be better at stopping the run and putting pressure on the QB. When was the last time a QB looked nervous playing the Packers? Like, 1998 when Reggie was still here. Also, the entire defense needs to tackle better including Burnett. Can we inform the defense early in camp and repeat it every day that it is legal to tackle in the NFL? Finally, can we lock the safeties in a room and make them watch Willie Wood tapes until they get it? It seems like we are counting heavily on Dix, that’s fine, but let’s remember that he has quite a learning curve to go through as a rookie. He has plenty of ability yes, but how quickly will ability result in plays on the field? It’s too early to tell. Finally, let’s see where Hyde plays out in all of this and maybe some rotational safety play may help Burnett get back to form. With Seattle as our first opponent we should find out pretty early where we stand. Go Pack! Thanks, Since ’61
Cutler always looks nervous playing against CM3.
Don’t think comeback player of the year should be available to him just because he played like buffalo dung last year. Seems to me he got his big payday and now is just going through the motions.
This will be an interesting year. I have high hopes. Lots of new faces and guys coming back from injury to add to an already play-off caliber group. There will be a lot of opportunity for comeback player of the year. You’re right big T, Burnett should not be one of those candidates, but a re-appearance sure would be welcome. Go pack!
The safety play WILL improve this year with HHCD and possibly Hyde next to Burnett. And who knows what we’ve got with Richardson? There’s some depth there for the first time since Collins went out.
But I have to agree with Packett – until we see better mobility from our ILBs we are going to get gashed by TEs and RBs repeatedly. We SUCK at ILB. Collins and Bishop were mobile enough to make up for Peprah and Hawks’ lack of running ability. Jones and HHCD or Jones and Hyde? YTBD.
We’d all better hope that both Burnett and Jones have a bounce back campaign and that injuries stay away – or we’ll all be screaming at the TV because of one after another 3rd and 7 conversion.
That is the $8.25 million dollar question.
If our defense stays healthy as a whole, Burnett will be an improved player as putting pressure on a quarterback takes the pressure off the safety position.
I’m just hoping it was a down year for Burnett, and with HHCD next to him, he will be rejuvenated.
Will Morgan Burnett Rebound For the Packers in 2014? Man, I sure hope so.
Burnett missed the first quarter of the season. When he returned he to play with MD, Banjo, and Richardson (who still has potential), and without Hayward. That’s asking a lot. The prior year Burnett played every defensive snap and performed well. Sensing a return to form this year.
“When he returned he [had] to play…”. You’d think I could proofread a short post better than that. Sorry
Stevie Wonder would have made more plays than either one one of those jokers last year. How can it possibly get worse than two 140+ qb rated safeties with no picks, strips and nary a pass defensed. Hope Ha Ha doesn’t forget everything he’s learned once Perry gets his hands on him
I went back and read Burnett’s draft profiles, 1standgoal. At 6″1, 209 lbs., with 4.51 40, 39″ vertical, 11″+ broad, good 10 yard, 3 cone etc. times, NFL.com wrote that Burnett had good size to be a safety, and was a good athlete, just less polished than Eric Reid. CBS wrote that Burnett could play either FS or SS as he was able to cover a lot of ground, could cover WR man to man, had good ball hawking skills and production (i.e. INTs), and was a willing tackler.
The knock was that he was inconsistent, allowing too many big plays at FS and took bad angles in run support.
After 4 years of Perry’s coaching, Bag of Donuts, this remarkable athlete is still inconsistent. Burnett is a much better athlete than Clinton-Dix. Perry was hired 2/3/09. Nick Collins had his pro bowl season in 2008/2009, before Perrry was hired. So as far as I can see, Perry is an 0 for ? in developing safeties.
No way of telling if it’s the player the coach or both. And unfortunately we have similar situations with the ILB’s, special teams and OL. Until the cast of characters undergoes a change, there’s no way of knowing
Absolutely agree. Some have football IQ and instincts. Some don’t. Dix and Hyde are considered to have instincts and a good football IQ. Let’s develop some Safeties!
Hope Hyde makes it…..after 4 years I have zero confidence in Burnett. Perry or no Perry, if you haven’t figured it out by now, chances are you never will.Agree 100% on the instincts. In his rookie year it was easy to see Heyward had it. Can see a lot of that in Hyde too. Burnett runs around in circles and is never in the right position to make a play. Same token we have Hawk and Jones running 5 yards behind the TE’s and no help over the top. Whole different topic.
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