Jennings Ready To Be Safety Valve

If Morgan Burnett can't play with his broken hand, undrafted rookie M.D. Jennings potentially will be thrust into a big role on Sunday against St. Louis. We talked to Jennings and safeties coach Darren Perry.

M.D. Jennings has contributed before his time before.

As a seventh-grader at Calhoun City (Miss.) High School, Jennings earned a letter on the varsity baseball team.

So, while Morgan Burnett is expected to start on Sunday against the St. Louis Rams despite a broken hand, Jennings will be at the ready in case Burnett's club-cast is too restrictive.

"I'm just going about it just like I go every week – just worry about what I can control," Jennings said on Friday. "If my number gets called, I've got to be ready."

Jennings wasn't drafted out of Arkansas State but the Packers liked his versatility. He started at safety for three seasons but played nickel corner against three- and four-receiver sets. Because of the lockout, Jennings joined the Packers about four months later than a rookie during a typical offseason. That made it an uphill battle to make a team that had three-time Pro Bowler Nick Collins, 2010 third-round pick Burnett and steady veteran Charlie Peprah entrenched as the top three safeties.

Fortunately, Jennings said he's a quick learner — not surprising since he ranked fifth in his graduating class, won a United States National Minority Leadership Award as a high school senior and was named to the Sun Belt Conference honor roll.

"An undrafted free agent, to come in and pick up all the information that we throw at him, to be able to grasp it and understand it to a point to where you can go out and execute the techniques, it's impressive," safeties coach Darren Perry said. "But he's still got a ways to go and he's still learning. Obviously, when you have young guys out there, they're going to make some mistakes. We've got to understand that and make sure we're patient with him, but at the same time, understand that he does have to play to a certain level."

Jennings was part of a four-man derby to be the team's fourth safety, battling fellow undrafted rookie Anthony Bratton, 2010 practice-squad player Anthony Levine and 2009 sixth-round draft pick Brandon Underwood. Special-teams ace Jarrett Bush also can play safety.

Jennings impressed quickly, with an interception in the preseason game against Cleveland. He finished third on the team with 16 tackles, added a half sack and recovered two onside kicks.

"Man, when I first got here, I was a little nervous but I expected to be here," Jennings said. "I was going to give it my all and I made plans to make the 53-man roster, and I did."

He did, and after being inactive in Week 1, he's played on special teams the last four weeks.

Jennings was a three-year starter at Arkansas State, setting a career high with 84 tackles and tying a career high with three interceptions as a senior. He was named the Sun Belt Conference's defensive player of the week against eventual national champion Auburn, with 11 tackles, a forced fumble, fumble recovery and sack of eventual Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton.

"He took to our playbook," Perry said. "He came in and got in it, understood what we were asking him to do, made very few mistakes. And he had productivity. Those are the things that you look for out of a player is for him to go out there and do the techniques, be where you're supposed to be, and when the opportunity presents itself, to go out there and make plays. He did that throughout the preseason."

At the portion of Friday's practice that was open to reporters, Jennings lined up with the starters alongside Peprah. On the last play of a two-minute drill, he had tight coverage on Donald Driver and stopped him at the 1-yard line. Cornerback Charles Woodson thrust both arms into the air as if they'd just won a game.

"He's athletic but yet when it comes to tackling and doing the things that are necessary, I think he can do that," Perry said. "He's not the biggest guy but he plays with the right attitude and he plays with the toughness that you have to have back there."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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