Starting with the team's offseason program in the month of May, the Packers have made Clinton-Dix earn his playing time with the starters, and it's come slowly in the early going.
"I've always had to put in extra work, stay around, asking Micah (Hyde) for help, asking Morgan (Burnett) for help and just be in my playbook a lot," said Clinton-Dix after practice on Monday.
With Burnett held out of the Packers' preseason opener because of a strained muscle, Clinton-Dix got the nod with the first-string defense by default, and from most indications, turned in a promising debut against the Tennessee Titans.
In that game, Clinton-Dix got a "Welcome to the NFL" moment, failing to wrap up and getting ran over by 170-pound Titans running back Dexter McCluster, but from that time forward, the rookie safety has held his own, both against the run and the pass.
Relegated to backup duty once Burnett returned for this past Saturday's second preseason game against the St. Louis Rams, the rookie safety continued his solid string of play and took it up a notch, hinting he could be a threat as a pass rusher when he blitzed off the edge and earned a second-half sack of quarterback Garrett Gilbert.
"Actually the play before that, the previous play was a called blitz, but I just didn't make that play," said Clinton-Dix, "but the next time it came to me perfectly."
That series of downs seems to have typified Clinton-Dix's first training camp as a professional football player: a learning experience one moment and capitalizing on it the next.
His development continued on Monday as the Packers returned to the practice field, reportedly intercepting two passes in team drills inside the Hutson Center, arguably having his best day in a Packers uniform.
"I think Ha Ha's progressing very nicely," said head coach Mike McCarthy. "He's very consistent. What I like about him, he's the same personality, same man every day. He picked it up schematically, and he's been productive. So I think Ha Ha's having good camp."
The decision to bring Clinton-Dix along slowly is perhaps starting to pay dividends. Evident in his play through two games, he's recognizing and diagnosing offenses, a product of week-by-week preparation for the upcoming opponent.
"It's starting to slow down a lot," said Clinton-Dix. "I'm starting to be a lot more consistent, just playing around, flying around the ball, having fun."
Still to be determined is if and when the first round draft choice can crack the starting lineup. Thus far, he's been stuck beind Burnett and Hyde as the first-team tandem, his biggest role coming in the team's dime defensive packages when the Packers send out six defensive backs on the field.
The Packers didn't make Clinton-Dix the 21st overall selection in the NFL Draft for nothing, though. The way he's headed, it won't be long before he steals playing time away from those ahead of him on the depth chart.
For the time being, however, he's biding his time and soaking up as many Xs and Os as possible.
"I can't say I'm ready to be done with training camp," said Clinton-Dix. "I'm taking it one step at a time. We have two more preseason games left, and I'm looking forward to those."
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor at Cheesehead TV and its "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].
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