That transition got under way on Monday with the start of the team’s offseason program.
“I’m very confident,” safety Morgan Burnett said on Monday. “The guys that were here that left, we’re going to miss those guys; just the brotherhood that we had with those men. But that’s what the NFL’s about. It’s about the next man up making the most of your opportunity, and I’m pretty sure that guys are excited and ready to step up and prove themselves — including myself. I have to step up. We’re looking forward to the challenge and it should be fun.”
Last season, Williams was 31 and in his ninth season in Green Bay. That made him the elderstatesman of the secondary and one of the longest-tenured players on the roster. Now that he’s gone and with Jarrett Bush unsigned, Burnett and cornerback Sam Shields are the longest-tenured defensive backs on the team. Burnett (third round) and Shields (undrafted) joined the team in 2010 and are 26 and 27, respectively.
“He’s going to be missed,” Burnett said of Williams. “He was like a big brother to us all — not just with what his play was on the field but just the way he carried himself as a professional off of the field. A lot of guys respected him for that. A lot of guys are looking forward to stepping up and it’s going to be a fun year.”
Not only did the Packers lose Williams and House, but they released A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones and let Jamari Lattimore walk, as well. Williams started 16 games, Hawk started 13, Lattimore started five, House started four and Jones started once (but 22 in 2012 and 2013). That’s a lot of experience that walked out the door from a team that was just minutes away from reaching the Super Bowl.
“And that’s tough. That’s tough,” defensive lineman Mike Daniels said. “But that’s just the nature of the business. You just named good, quality guys that can play football. It’s tough, but it’s just something that comes with the business. This is my fourth year, and I think three years ago I might have been a little more shocked by it, but still, when you walk in here and you don’t see those familiar faces, it’s still a bit of a shock.”
Green Bay did retain Letroy Guion, who started at nose tackle last season, and B.J. Raji, who started 62 of a possible 64 regular-season games from 2010 through 2013 before missing last year with a torn biceps tendon. Given the unsettled state of the inside linebackers and cornerbacks, that makes that group one of the most stable on the defense.
“That’s huge. That’s very big,” Daniels said. “You have two veteran guys, two bigger guys and two productive football players. They’re both really good football players and they’re great guys. They’re great guys in the locker room, they work very hard. We all push each other. I would have been the oldest guy in the locker room (among the defensive linemen) and I have no problem with that at all. Those two guys, it’s always good to have two other older guys, that have been around, that have played a lot of football and what they bring to the weight room, practice, the locker room, that’s something that money can’t buy. So, I’m really happy I get to play with those guys again.”
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