It's Burnett and Who Else at Safety?

The starting position alongside Morgan Burnett is up for grabs and there's a glaring lack of depth at a position marked by incredible youth.

About six weeks removed from the draft, the Green Bay Packers continue to look weak at safety.

The Packers believe Morgan Burnett is a first-rate starter, and they're eager to see who emerges from the competition between M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian to be the second starter.

Otherwise, there's not a whole lot to get excited about after the team ignored the position in the draft and their one undrafted rookie, Ben Ericksen, failed his physical.

Sean Richardson says he'll be back for training camp after neck surgery. He's big and fast, but he's a big unknown after playing only 16 defensive snaps as an undrafted rookie last year.

The other safeties on the roster are Chaz Powell, a former Penn State wide receiver who spent the last month of last season on the practice squad, and David Fulton, an undrafted rookie from Division II Chowan who was signed last week. During a red-zone drill at Wednesday's practice, they allowed four touchdown passes without making a play on the ball.

Powell is the old man of the group at 25. Burnett, Jennings and McMillian are 24. Fulton and Richardson are 23. That's an average age of 23.8 yards and they've combined for 12 years of experience.

Charles Woodson, who was unceremoniously released in February and returned to Oakland a couple weeks ago, had 15 years of experience by himself.

"Some guys frown upon that (youth), some guys get apprehensive and nervous," safeties coach Darren Perry said. "I think back to my second year in Pittsburgh (as an assistant coach), when we decided to start Troy Polamalu and Chris Hope. The year prior, those guys didn't see the field hardly, and Troy struggled. And then the next year, Bill (Cowher) said, ‘Who are your two starting safeties?' And I said, ‘Coach, it's time to go with Chris and Troy.' And he says, ‘You're going to start Chris Hope and Troy Polamalu?' (I said), ‘Yeah, we are, Coach. It's time.' We won't use youth or lack of experience as an excuse."

Burnett, with 32 consecutive starts, is the least of the Packers' problems but hasn't exactly been a difference-maker, either. He was one of two defenders in the league to play every defensive snap and ranked second on the team with 137 tackles, but recorded just two interceptions — both big ones in a December victory against Minnesota.

Jennings started the final 10 games and played in all 16, finishing with 46 tackles, one interception and six passes defensed in 616 snaps. McMillian didn't start but played extensively at the dime as well as safety. He wound up playing 614 snaps, so was on the field almost as much as Jennings. McMillian finished with 30 tackles, one interception and 13 passes defensed.

"You've got guys who are hungry and trying to seize an opportunity," Perry said. "That's going to make us a really good football team and give us some depth."

Woodson isn't on the market but it's a safe bet that general manager Ted Thompson will be keeping a close eye on this group during training camp. There is veteran talent available, led by Kerry Rhodes and Quintin Mikell, who were the fourth- and fifth-best safeties in the entire league last season, based on ProFootballFocus.com's grading. Charlie Peprah is on the market, too, as is Atari Bigby, Tyrone Culver and Matt Giordano, and there's always the waiver wire as teams start trimming their rosters in late August.

Burnett speaks confidently that he'll line up alongside a quality player, regardless of who emerges.

"We have a close group," Burnett said. "I feel we have the guys who are going to go out and compete. We have smart players. It's just an honor for me to be alongside those guys and it's going to be fun. We're looking forward to it."


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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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