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Point of Veau: Depth at Safety Stands as Concern on Packers Defense

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Point of Veau: Depth at Safety Stands as Concern on Packers Defense

There's little doubt that safety is one of the thinnest positions on the Green Bay Packers roster heading into the start of the 2013 season.

Despite the dearth of veteran players at the position beyond Morgan Burnett, the Packers should be okay thanks to the up-and-coming Jerron McMillian. Should Green Bay suffer any injuries at safety, however, look out.

As the Packers enter training camp in less than a month, the spot in the starting lineup opposite Burnett would appear to be up for grabs. And while M.D. Jennings isn't being counted out of the competition yet, McMillian figures to be front-runner and presumptive winner of the job.

The duo of Burnett and McMillian should complement each other nicely. Entering his fourth year in professional football, Burnett is on his way to becoming an all-around player whose capability to tackle and play near the line of scrimmage is beginning to match his aptitude for roaming the back end with top-notch range.

McMillian, meanwhile, displayed an ability to play in the box during his rookie season but still has limitations covering receivers and defending the pass.

Just because guarding against the pass is one of McMillian's relative weaknesses, it stands to reason that he'll make strides in that department now in his sophomore season in the NFL. If McMillian's raw athletic prowess is any indication, his combination of size, speed and strength should serve him well.

While Jennings has talked about packing on the pounds without sacrificing his speed this offseason, the reality is McMillian is a step ahead of Jennings from a skill and talent standpoint, if a step behind in terms of experience and instincts.

Jennings might be able to be an adequate NFL backup, the type of player that can be relied upon in a pinch or in certain packages but likely not an impact player as a three-down, day-in, day-out starter.

The Packers had much the same player in 2010 by the name of Charlie Peprah, a smart player who had his own set of athletic limitations. Ironically, it was Peprah who replaced Burnett in the starting lineup at the time, and Packers were still able to win Super Bowl XLV despite the loss of Burnett and a whole other rash of injuries.

The difference between 2010 and 2013, however, is the level of talent in the supporting cast of the Packers defense. Gone from the 2010 version of the Packers are Charles Woodson, Nick Collins, Cullen Jenkins and Desmond Bishop, all of whom performed at a very high level. B.J. Raji also had the best season of his career had the best season of his career and hasn't come close since.

The Packers are in the process of re-inventing their defense that was so effective in 2010, but in the span of just one season, gave up the most single-season passing yards in the history of the NFL in 2011. They took a step forward and became an average pro defense in 2012, but there's still room to grow.

Young players expected to play major roles in 2013 include Casey Hayward, Nick Perry and Datone Jones, all of them high round draft choices. There's extreme potential in each one, but they're all still largely unproven.

If either Burnett or McMillian were to suffer an injury that forces them to miss a lengthy amount of time this upcoming season, the Packers could be in a world of hurt, at least if other players on defense don't raise their level of play.

Beyond Jennings, there's very few proven entities at safety. Sean Richardson is an intriguing prospect, but following his recent neck surgery, his return is no guarantee.

The only other safeties on the roster are practice-squad player Chaz Powell and undrafted rookie David Fulton.

In hindsight, it's rather curious that the Packers didn't make more of an attempt to sign a higher-profile safety in undrafted free agency, if for nothing else than an insurance policy. They reportedly tried to sign Ben Ericksen of Illinois State, but those plans fell through after he failed a physical.

Jarrett Bush has acted as an emergency safety in the past, and perhaps that will continue in 2013. But Bush would be merely a band-aid and not a solution.

In any case, the Packers will be hoping for good health at safety in 2013. You may want to cross your fingers.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (36) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Kevin's picture

This strikes me as very similar to the running back situation last year. We're counting on McMillian to make a jump just like we hoped Alex Green would, with MD Jennings kinda being like Brandon Saine. I think Jerron is more up to the task though. I sure hope so.

RC Packer Fan's picture

I see where your going with the point, however I wouldn't really compare it to the rb's of last year. Alex Green was coming off a major injury where McMillan isn't. Also Starks and Saine were coming off of injury's as well...
I agree that the safety position is full of questions though, with not a lot experience.

Stroh's picture

The only injury to the safeties that would REALLY cripple the Packers is Burnett. Either Jennings or McMillan is replaceable by the other. But if Burnett were out, then both Jennings and McMillan would be on the field full time. Anyone else is replaceable, but Burnett is now in the position Collins was a couple years ago. Losing him would be a major blow. That's not the case w/ any other Safety, other than to deplete depth.

Mojo's picture

Atari Bigby and Charlie Peprah are still out there.

Seriously, just pay Shields move Hyde to safety and be done with it.

Jon's picture

Don't agree with the safeties but I see your point and I love the Shields, Hyde idea.

Loved the article; with a proven free safety whom can/will become dominate with a great front seven and a thumping strong safety, our defense will thrive pending injuries. The point we need more talent for worst case scenerio hits home to us since our recent Super Bowl in so fresh in our memory. However TT is the man and he is probably saving some contracts/money for the future of our franchise. I know Raji is in a drought but he is our centerpiece and that just means we will get him cheaper but not cheap. If someone doesn't look great in camp or an injury occurred please believe our boys have a back up plan. Thoughts Brian?

The Pack Are Back

Fish/Crane's picture

The Pack Are Back??? LOL

Things are Fine With Devine

hayward4president's picture

I like jmac ....he hits . With our recent lack of thump on d I hope he is the starter. He has a lot of upside.

RC Packer Fan's picture

I like Burnett, and I thought that both Jennings and McMillan both had moments that looked good last year. I think both will take steps forward this year.
I do question the depth. I liked Richardson but how will he be coming off of his injury? And the rookies coming in, how good will they be?

I wouldn't mind seeing them moving Bush to safety. I'm not saying he will be a starter or anything special, but I think he could be serviceable if needed. He is very physical, can tackle, can't cover that great, but at the safety position I think he would be good enough in coverage.

I think he would add depth to the position.

I don't agree with moving Hyde to safety, not until you see how he can do at CB. From what I heard he looked pretty decent at CB in OTA's. Give him a chance there before you make that move.

Lucky953's picture

Burnett is already a top 10 safety. I too am surprised they didn't create more "competition" at safety. Bigby and Peprah will still be there at the end of camp, but Kerry Rhodes looks like the best available veteran FA. If Richardson can't make it through camp, they'll have to sign someone. Three only is too big a risk .

Nerd's picture

Davon House would make a great safety.

Stroh's picture

No way! Look I love House (I had targeted him well b4 the draft as a Packer pick), but he has CB written all over him! He excels at press coverage, but struggles in zone a little. As a safety they play almost exclusively zone coverage and rarely play press man. House would not make a great Safety! And he'll be a damn good CB soon!

Al Fresco's picture

When I look at teams who should be super bowl bound in the NFC, all those teams like SF and Seattle at the top and a few others lack what I call an an achiles heel.

Going into this years draft I felt the Pack had numerous heel's and could shore up some but not all. Defensive back and Linebacker run stopping was a weakness and not sure it still isn't. My question, yes we have DB's but are they any good. Most were late round draft picks.

Bearmeat's picture

Lack of an achillies heel?

SF - Secondary. Who's going to replace Goldson and company? Baltimore certainly exposed them, and GB's OL is roughly on par with Baltimore's.

SEA - DL. Who's going to step up? No Irvin. No Clemons. Where's the pass rush coming from?

EVERYONE has an achilies heel in the salary cap era. It's just who can mask it best and which young guys can step up.

hayward4president's picture

Irvin? Isn't he just on a 4 game suspension? (Curious WVU fan)

Evan's picture

SF: WR too

Bearmeat's picture

Yeah - 4 game suspension for Irvin. But the point still stands that that as a pressure based defense (that's how they make their hay), the Seabags are perilously thin on the DL.

Kind of like us at S. Or the 9ers at WR. Or the Broncos at LB. Or... you get the point.

redlights's picture

SEA will be lucky to make playoffs. Carroll is all emotion and when that schtick quits working, the players have nothing else to motivate themselves. Yes, some will, but many are incapable.

Bearmeat's picture

You can't have a team with superstars across all 22 starting positions in the salary cap era of the NFL.

You're going to have JAG's at a few spots, even on the best teams. SS is one of those spots for us this year.

Hope you don't get an injury and that young guys step up. If not, you sign a vet in season to the minimum to to CYA for this year.

djbonney138's picture

The defensive line is going to dictate how important the depth at the safety position is. If we give opposing QB's a month to throw at our guys they are going to get picked apart. The line plays tough and gets after the QB a few of the backup safeties may be able to weather that storm for awhile.IF the line sucks (again) and IF we have starting safeties get injured we might have a bad time.

Idiot Fan's picture

It's clear that their plan if a safety goes down is to move Mike Neal there...

MarkinMadison's picture

Don't be silly. Nick Perry will slide to safety.

MarkinMadison's picture

I agree with the article, but the shortage at OLB scares me more, given that Nick Perry is coming off of a season-ending injury.

Jon's picture

Lol idiot fan

Lou's picture

Two best replies are; Burnett going down would be critical to the defense and if the defensive line does not provide push even a healthy Collin's would have his hands full. There basically is no one behind Burnett, Bush will take your head off and hand it to you but he can't find a ball in the air with a GPS. Perry & Jones must provide the pass rush upfront, the holdovers are average at best penetrating. A real boost would be Jolly returning to form or close to it. He could spell Raji (when he played less snaps he provided good rush results) and Jolly's take no prisoner attitude would balance Hawk's passiveness (they ought to call him Charmin he is so soft). The key to the teams playoff future rests on Perry & Jones shoulders and Thompson picking up a veteran safety (Rhoades) to backup Burnett.

redlights's picture

Jolly played out of control and had more than one costly penalties. Now that, hopefully, his head is clear; I doubt you'll see the same attitude.

Stroh's picture

If he was playing out of control and it got the D to #1 run D in the NFL, its more than worth it! I'll take a couple penalties if it instills some attitude and toughness in the D. Jolly was credited by the coaches and Pickett as the driving force behind that tough D.

Jon's picture

Agreed. And it's not like Perry and Jones have to make a huge impact. Occasional beating of one on ones and getting good push is enough to see a handful of double teams. If that's the case Clay will be even more of an impact, dominant player.

The TKstinator's picture

Who on GB's defense plays with hostility, attitude, violence, etc? Or has the game gotten so specialized, technical, and safety conscious that just the thought of "tearing someone's head off" is a fine/suspension?

Evan's picture

Clay Matthews?

The TKstinator's picture

I would agree.
But I wish MORE names would quickly come to mind!

Evan's picture

Oh, no doubt.

Stroh's picture

Why I hope Jolly can make a successful comeback.

hump's picture

ive screamed for 5 months on this site, that theres no way our pack can win a championship with md jennings as any kind of plan for snaps at safety, its the equivilant of ricky weeks batting clean up and hitting 160 with 6rbi's through may,ive got football fever as much as any one, but teds ego got the best of him this off season. great safety free agent class and draft class and he refused to address it at all, mark my words!!!!!! you will see more 30 yard plus than has ever been given up in nfl history, by OUR boloved GREEN BAY PACKERS,because ted wouldnt spend 2 mil a year on kenny phillips or mike huff!!!!! GIVE ME A BREAK GO PACK!!!!!!!!

Stroh's picture

Yeah lets waste a couple Million on a player that's no better than Jennings. Huff played the entire year for Oak and his numbers were no better than Jennings. Jennings will continue to get better, Huff worse. No sense wasting the money. Phillips did nothing when he was on the field. And he's always had problems staying on the field. No thanks

McMillan is the likely starter anyway and he has a lot of talent. Not to mention we won a SB with Charlie F'en Peprah on the field full time!

The TKstinator's picture

I think as fans we give way too much credit to players with "name recognition". I believe Ted and his staff have a MUCH BETTER handle on scouting players in the league. I think this type of thing happens all the time: a veteran player THAT WE'VE ALL HEARD OF becomes available and fans want to see TT "pounce". I believe that in most cases the management believes that the player(s) we already have at that spot are as good, or better, or POTENTIALLY (draft and develop) as good or better. Yes, sometimes this approach doesn't work out.
I also think that GB has some kind of formula for performance vs. salary cap. To grossly illustrate this point: GB has player A with a grade of "77" and is earning 453K. Player B is a free agent at the same position, and has a rating of "81" but would likely cost in the range of 1.5 million. Why pay triple for a guy who's only marginally better? And in many cases I would say that player A is young and likely to improve (draft and develop) while player B is older and more likely to decline.
And of course there is a residual salary cap effect. If GB overpays to get player B, how does that affect their ability to extend their core players?

Now I gotta go ice my fingers.

THEMichaelRose's picture

Wild prediction: Packers select Damond Smith with a 7th round pick today and convert him to safety.

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