23 Days 'Til Camp: Less Boxing for Burnett

Every day until the start of camp on July 26, we'll provide one juicy nugget to whet your appetite for the return of football. We'd give you more but the CBA forbids two-a-days. Sorry. The numbers show that Morgan Burnett spent too much time playing in the box last season.

Unlike the Seattle Seahawks, who have a natural free safety in Earl Thomas and a pure strong safety in Kam Chancellor, the Green Bay Packers prefer to use their safeties interchangeably.

With the slightly built M.D. Jennings, the Packers were unable to play that way. With Jennings unable to handle the play-to-play rigors of run support, Green Bay was forced to use Morgan Burnett in that role more than it would have liked. It was just a reason, not the reason, but it helps explain how Burnett didn't record an interception last season.

"He's up near the line of scrimmage, so he's been that guy, that kind of linebacker hybrid," safeties coach Darren Perry said at the end of last season. "He doesn't get as many opportunities in the deep part of the field as you would like, because he's got good ball skills."

Among ProFootballFocus.com's "Signature Stats" is its "Run Stop Percentage" metric. At safety, PFF helpfully breaks down a safety's play in run defense by both total snaps played against the run and snaps played when he is lined up within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage.

Burnett was lined up in the box on 166 of 341 snaps played against the run — 48.7 percent — according to Pro Football Focus. Jennings lined up in the box on 69 of 301 run snaps (22.9 percent). Sean Richardson lined up in the box on 23 of 59 run plays (39.0 percent) and Chris Banjo started in the box on 20 of 67 run plays (29.9 percent).

Contrast that to 2012, when Charles Woodson started half the season until being sidelined by a broken collarbone. Burnett was in the box on 40.4 percent of run snaps. When Woodson was in the lineup, he played in the box on 65.7 percent of run snaps, which freed up Burnett to play in coverage. When Woodson was out, Jennings stepped in but played in the box on only 16.3 percent of the run snaps.

"Even when Woodson came back, he became pretty much our strong safety and moved into that role," Perry said during last month's minicamp. "That's just kind of how things worked out. Again, versatility is huge. I think having another guy who can be equally as effective near the line of scrimmage is going to help us as a defense."

Jennings' one-dimensional play would have been fine had he covered ground in center field with the playmaking skill of Seattle's Thomas. However, Jennings had no interceptions and broke up only two passes, by the coaches' count. Thus, the Packers didn't tender Jennings in restricted free agency, then fortified the position by moving Micah Hyde from cornerback and using their first-round draft choice on HaHa Clinton-Dix.

The hope goes beyond simply having a better player than Jennings in the lineup. Instead, the goal is for Clinton-Dix or Hyde to be a better and more versatile player than Jennings.

"You're going to be a better defense the better players you have around, but I don't think one guy coming in and playing beside him is going to make him play any harder," Perry said. "That's on him. He's going to be what he is. I think as a defensive unit, the more talent you have out there, the better you're going to be. Any time you upgrade your defense, it's going to help everyone, not just one individual."


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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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