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.