Banjo Strikes Right Chord in Battle for No. 4

The three contenders for the No. 4 safety slot are either new to the position, new to the team or both. Chris Banjo, who was added during the first week of training camp, has made an immediate impact through his physical play and 100 mph style.

Maybe in time, people will learn how to pronounce Chris Banjo's last name.

"I get called ‘Django' a lot," the rookie safety said. "I'm starting to hear that the ‘B' is silent now with Banjo."

For the record, his name is pronounced just like the instrument. During his short time with the Green Bay Packers, he's been hitting offensive players like a drum. If helmets crack on the practice field, there's a good chance No. 32 was involved. And he showed the hands of a pianist by jumping in front of a Vince Young pass for an interception late in Thursday's practice.

"I think he can cover as well as anybody else back there," safeties coach Darren Perry said. "He's just learning our defense but he does some things naturally. He showed up Friday night (against Arizona) and made some really good, instinctive plays. He tackles well and he obviously runs well. It's still early so we haven't seen a lot of snaps on him just yet. Just like to be more detailed in my evaluation of him and see him in some game situations and see how he performs. If he plays like he did the other night, he showed some great signs."

In the span of less than three weeks, Banjo has gone from out of the league to perhaps the front-runner to be the Packers' fourth safety.

The engaging and articulate Banjo started his final three-and-a-half seasons at SMU. After measuring in at 5-foot-9 7/8, Banjo went undrafted in 2012 and got shots as Pittsburgh's and Oakland's rookie camps but failed to stick. After spending all of 2012 out of the league, he was signed by Jacksonville a week before the 2013 draft. The Jaguars released him just before the start of training camp, and he joined the Packers on July 29.

"It's definitely hard" to keep working when teams aren't expressing interest, he said. "Not only physically but more so mentally, to wonder if anything's ever going to happen, if you're making the right decision. I just thank God for the opportunity and the way things turned out and having the opportunity to be here."

The Packers failed to address safety in a meaningful fashion during the offseason. Despite the release of Charles Woodson and the uncertain future of Sean Richardson, who might not play again after last year's neck injury, they didn't draft a safety. Their top undrafted target, Illinois State star and Wisconsin native Ben Ericksen, failed his physical.

Thus, behind Morgan Burnett and holdovers M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian, Perry is working with three projects who are new to the position, new to the team or both. Chaz Powell, a receiver and cornerback at Penn State who went undrafted in 2012, joined the practice squad on Dec. 5. David Fulton, an undrafted rookie cornerback from Division II Chowan, was signed on May 28.

"They're swimming right now a little bit but they continue to grow," Perry said. "Chris Banjo has done a fine job. Chaz Powell is coming along, along with David Fulton. They're just trying to get a good grasp of what we're asking them to do. They're still learning. You see some signs of progress. Hopefully come Saturday night, we'll see even more signs of those guys going in the right direction. I think they all see what's out there in terms of that fourth spot being open and available. They're competing for it."

Perry used the words "big" and "physical" to describe Fulton and "athletic" in discussing Powell.

"Young guy, hasn't been exposed to a lot of football," Perry said of Fulton. "He made some plays on Friday night. You see some signs of progress. (Powell is) still learning the position. This is our first opportunity to really work with him. He's still raw and inexperienced when it comes to playing D-back at this level and seeing some of the things that DBs see when they play in the NFL. He's still growing but he's obviously a talent because of his athletic ability and you like to work with him."

In just a couple of weeks, Banjo has shown he's perhaps the most NFL-ready from a raw and inexperienced group. Among his four tackles against the Cardinals came a stop for minus-3 on third-and-3. As the fourth safety, special teams would be his No. 1 chore. Against the Cardinals, he delivered a big hit on Charles Hawkins during a fourth-quarter punt return.

"Banjo has shown up," Perry said. "Some guys are just natural football players and I would put him in that category. He has a good football mind. He's still figuring out what we're doing here but he's able to apply it and produce when he's out there on the field and he doesn't let not knowing slow him down. He's a guy that if he's not quite sure, he'll still go full speed whereas some guys when they're not sure, they go 70 percent or 80 percent. He's going to go full speed regardless and I think that's a great sign of a good football player. We'll see. He did some good things the other night. He was productive, instinctive, can run. People look at his stature and they don't see a big guy, but I think he's plenty physical. It's still early. But he did show some good things Friday night to get you excited."

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

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