Just because the Green Bay Packers made Ha Ha Clinton-Dix their first-round draft pick doesn't mean he was automatically handed a job in the starting lineup.
When the Packers held their first open practice of the 2014 season on Thursday, it was Micah Hyde lining up with the first-string defense and not the 21st overall overall selection in the NFL Draft.
"Of course, you have to earn it," said Clinton-Dix. "Starting from the bottom, trying to pick up this playbook, I'm going to go day in and day out to keep working hard and improve."
It's possible that no one would have batted an eye if it was Clinton-Dix lining up with the starters as the Packers practiced for the first time in a full-team environment. After all, the spot was wide open after M.D. Jennings' departure to the Chicago Bears in free agency earlier in the offseason.
But instead it was Hyde, who actually is less experienced at safety than the rookie from Alabama.
There's no guarantee Hyde is going to be the starter at the position when the Packers open their season Sept. 4 in Seattle, but the coaches using the offseason as an opportunity to cross-train the versatitle defensive back just in case.
"When I look at Micah Hyde, I definitely think he's a young man that can be a four-downer," said head coach Mike McCarthy. "He has been a four-down football player for us. He made an impact on special teams last year. He's a very good football player, whether he's playing the nickel or any other position. He's a natural corner, so we're giving him an opportunity to be on the field defensively on all three downs."
At the very least, the Packers need depth at safety. Beyond Burnett and Clinton-Dix, there's no true safety on the team that's even guaranteed of making the regular season 53-man roster.
Hyde is getting the first-team reps for now, but that's okay with the team's first-round draft pick. Despite competing for essentially the same job, Clinton-Dix insists the veterans in Green Bay are being nothing but helpful.
"They've definitely been showing me love a lot, trying to help me understand the playbook and being in the right spot at the right time," said Clinton-Dix. "Sean (Richardson has) been helping me out. Morgan (Burnett has) been doing a great job of showing me the right way and leading me, as well as Micah and (Chris) Banjo, so they've been doing a great job of keeping in touch with me and keeping up on the game."
The reality of the situation is, it's only been three weeks since Clinton-Dix heard his name called by commissioner Roger Goodell at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, hardly enough time to digest an entire NFL playbook.
Despite a conscious effort by the coaching staff to streamline the Xs and Os on the defensive side of the football this season, it's still a challenge for any first-year player to get up to speed. Clinton-Dix described the Packers' scheme as "difficult" and the playbook as "very big."
Regardless, he's learning, even if it is trial by fire.
Facing Aaron Rodgers in a practice environment day after day can only help.
"He's one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game, so just trying to defend a couple of his passes is pretty hard. It's definitely hard," said Clinton-Dix. "I'm enjoying it, and it's very humbling."
Even though he's playing second fiddle for the time being, the Packers didn't make Clinton-Dix their first round selection for nothing.
Sooner or later, he'll be in the starting lineup. For now, OTAs is about learning and getting better, snap by snap and day by day.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
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