16

January

Safety First: Packers’ offseason needs start in secondary

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.

1

August

Morgan Burnett Emerging as Key Figure in Packers’ Secondary

Green Bay Packers Safety Morgan Burnett

Safety Morgan Burnett Taking Charge

After the Green Bay Packers cut ties with Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins, the importance of Morgan Burnett undoubtedly grew larger.On top of being the Packers’ key communicator on the back end of the defense, he was a turnover machine, constantly hovering deep in the middle of the defense waiting for his opportunity to jump routes or lay the lumber to an unsuspecting wide receiver.

And if the first week of training camp is any indication–Burnett appears capable of picking up right where Collins left off.

Playing alongside Collins, Burnett’s role often required him to play closer to the line of scrimmage–something that the 6’1″ 209-pound safety is certainly capable of doing but didn’t seem like a natural fit for his long build and rangy skill set.

Burnett missed the final 12 games games of his rookie season, and Collins missed the final 14 last year–as a result, the highly athletic and similarly skilled duo only started six games together. Now with Collins having been released by the team, Burnett will step in as the Packers’ “center fielder.”

On three consecutive plays at Tuesday morning’s practice at Ray Nitschke field, Burnett was the center of attention. First, he sprinted from the deep middle of the field to the sideline and broke up a beautiful Aaron Rodgers bomb to Jordy Nelson, then on the next play, jarred the ball loose from Jermichael Finley across the middle, and followed that up by intercepting Rodgers after Donald Driver lost his footing while running a route.

Tuesday’s practice was certainly both encouraging and impressive for everyone in Packer Country, but it was nothing new for Burnett, who arrived to camp in great shape and appears headed for a breakout season.

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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 AllGBP.com. Follow Marques on Twitter @MJEversoll.

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21

June

Green Bay Packer Safety Morgan Burnett Developing Quickly: Thank You Atari Bigby

As Green Bay Packers third round draft pick Morgan Burnett continues to impress Packers coach Mike Mccarthy, surely he is grinning inside and saying to himself, thank you Atari Bigby.

For a player that came on as an undrafted free agent, had one good year, and then missed 12 games the past two years, Atari Bigby seems surprisingly secure in not signing the Packers’ RFA tender offer. He was even willing to lose $54,000, as the Packers have the right to re-work the offer to 110% of his 2009 salary and surely will.

While I have no problem with players trying to get as much  money as they can, it seems fairly obvious to everyone except Bigby and his agent Drew Rosenhaus that they have no leverage to seek a long-term deal. But I’m not here to write about that, as the topic has been covered pretty concisely elsewhere. (One good treatise on the subject can be found here: The Game of Atari )

But while Atari stays away from the Packers’ OTAs, Morgan Burnett is getting all the first team reps and his star continues to rise, especially in the eyes of Packers head coach Mike McCarthy. McCarthy has made it a point to compliment Burnett in every press conference he’s held since the Packers started their Organized Team Activities (OTAs).

Here are McCarthy’s comments on Burnett:

05/19/10 – He’s done a very good job, number one, in the meetings, communicating. Dom Capers, the way he runs the defense and the method of communication as far as how our meetings are organized, that’s the first step, and the ability to carry it over to the playing field. We’ve seen him in the rookie orientation and now two practices, so I think he’s off to a good start there. But there’s no question you like the size and the athletic ability that he possesses, and I think that’s pretty clear-cut to everybody just watching him move around the last two days

06/02/10 – Been very impressed with Morgan. He’s done a very good job, particularly communicating for a young safety. That’s a very big part of playing the position, the communication, as far as the alignments, the formations and the calls to be made back there. I think he’s off to a good start. I think he’s a very natural football player. He’s done some things on special teams in particular some new techniques that we’re implementing this year. I like what I’ve seen just in the short time he’s been here also on special teams.