Overview: The safety position improved exponentially in 2014 after the Packers used their first-round draft pick on Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. This was never more apparent than in the 2014 NFC championship game when Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett combined for three interceptions. Burnett’s improvement in 2014 can be traced back to the more sturdy presence of Clinton-Dix next to him. Micah Hyde, who began 2014 as a starting safety, was moved back to his natural cornerback position mid way through the season when Clinton-Dix was able to claim a starting safety spot of his own. With both starters still relatively young, the Packers appear set at safety and hope to see continued improvement from this position group in 2015.
Where We Are Now
Here are the current suspects:
- Morgan Burnett (3rd round, 2010)
- Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (1st round, 2014)
- Sean Richardson (Undrafted free agent, 2012)
- Chris Banjo (Undrafted free agent, 2013)
Morgan Burnett: Burnett benefited, as expected, from having a solid running mate at the other safety position in 2014. With Clinton-Dix roaming the defensive backfield, Burnett was able to excel in run support and also racked up one-and-a-half sacks. Burnett had one interception during the regular season after logging zero in 2013. Burnett had another pick in the NFC championship game late in the fourth quarter. Burnett slid shortly after logging the turnover as instructed by his teammates on the field, but he has to continue to mature and make his own decisions on the field. Burnett was a postseason captain last year. With the safety position solidified, Burnett should be able to take another step forward in 2015 and continue to improve.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix: Clinton-Dix struggled to claim a starting safety spot in training camp and had a rough outing in week one against the Seattle Seahawks. He matured quickly, however, and was a starter by mid season. He did log one interception during the regular season and had two more in the conference championship game. Ha Ha didn’t have the last laugh in 2014, however, as he found himself inexplicably unable to make what looked like an easy play on a two-point conversion try by Seattle late in that game. He was also a virtual zero in the week 17 game against the Detroit Lions. Rookies often times find themselves struggling during their rookie seasons between learning the scheme and how to prepare each week for a long season. Clinton-Dix did show a lot of promise in 2014, despite a few big gaffes, and should make a nice jump from year one to year two in the Packers defense.
Sean Richardson: Richardson appeared in three regular season and both postseason games in 2014. He didn’t have any passes defensed but made 22 tackles, two for lost yardage. Richardson has established himself as safety depth and most solid in run support. Richardson is a restricted free agent in 2015 and won’t likely cost the Packers too much to re-sign. They stayed with him through his neck fusion surgery and after two full healthy seasons, he seems like the type of player the team would target to bring back. Provided that they do, his role won’t likely change in 2015. In training camp, Richardson did flash some pass coverage ability, which would be a welcome addition to his game this season. The question is whether there is room for him on the field with as many sub packages as the Packers use on defense. Micah Hyde often seemed to be in any type of hybrid safety role or in as the extra defensive back so Richardson has his work cut out for him if he wants to become more involved in the defense.
Chris Banjo: Banjo was cut at the end of training camp and signed to the team’s practice squad after spending the entire 2013 season on the active roster. He was bumped up to the active roster in mid-December and made a very minimal impact. He’s not currently under contract and may not be in the team’s future plans or they could bring him back to training camp on a one-year deal to compete for a spot and provide more depth at safety. He knows the defense and contributes on special teams, so he seems like a viable option to be in camp come summer time.
Where We Want to Be
What a difference a year makes. After being a position of major need for two-straight seasons, the Packers appear to have their tandem set for the foreseeable future in Burnett and Clinton-Dix. The biggest need is to see this group improve in coverage and become more versatile. They were good in run support but the Packers haven’t had a safety that they could send in after the quarterback in a while. That would be a huge upgrade over what they had last season.
Adding some young depth at safety is always a good thing and between corner and safety, the Packers may be addressing their defensive backfield in the mid-to-late rounds in this upcoming draft.
How Do We Get There?
The focus for improving at safety starts with the continued growth of incumbents Burnett and Clinton-Dix. With a full season under his belt and some tough lessons learned, hopefully HHCD is ready to make a jump in year two. Burnett may have reached his peak, which isn’t a bad thing given how he played in 2014, but the Packers are hoping he still has some room to grow before he reaches his ceiling. He won’t ever be Nick Collins, but he proved to be a much bigger part of the defense than he had been previously.
The Packers won’t likely need to dip into free agency for any help at safety and doing so would cost more than Green Bay’s appetite likely calls for.
In terms of the draft, the Packers are more likely to take a true cornerback than a safety. With corners Tramon Williams and Davon House uncertain to return as of the time this is published, I see the Packers taking multiple corners over a safety. The potential loss of Richardson would make drafting a safety more likely, but still something the team likely does in the middle-to-later rounds.
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: