Practice 2: Player, Position, Rookie of Day

Morgan Burnett had a big day, which could be a great sign given the lack of big-play production from the safeties the past two seasons.

Photo by Benny Sieu/USA TODAY

Here’s a look back at the first two practices of Green Bay Packers training camp.

Player of the day

Safety Morgan Burnett stepped up his game in 2014, turning in the finest season of his five-year career. More will be demanded of Burnett this season in leading a secondary that’s without Tramon Williams, who had started 110 games (including playoffs) in his career.

So far, so good. In two days, Green Bay’s No. 1 defense hasn’t given up a deep completion that’s the result of a communication breakdown. Moreover, Burnett picked off two passes at Friday’s practice. The first was more a byproduct of Andy Mulumba getting in the face of rookie quarterback Brett Hundley, whose lollipop to tight end Justin Perillo was woefully underthrown. Burnett came racing out of center field to make the catch on the run. On the second, Aaron Rodgers looked a bit late throwing a slant. Cornerback Casey Hayward deflected the pass and Burnett hauled it in.

“Really, Casey made a great play on the ball,” Burnett said. “As a safety, we’ve got a motto: You always get the tips and overthrows. Casey made a great burst on the ball and tipped it up. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”

Position spotlight

Interceptions aren’t everything at safety, as Packers safeties coach Darren Perry has been quick to remind during his tenure.

“Interceptions don’t define a person’s career,” Perry said at the end of the 2013 season, when his unit didn’t record any interceptions. “I’ve been around great players, coached great players that didn’t get a lot of interceptions. That doesn’t make them a good player or bad player.”

While there’s some spin in that comment, there’s also some truth. Just check out the chart below that shows interception totals for all 32 teams’ safeties in 2014. Seattle, with the elite tandem of Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, picked off two passes last season — same as Green Bay and the third-fewest in the NFL. Nobody would call Chicago’s safeties elite, but that group had eight thefts.

TeamINTs
Detroit11
Cleveland9
Chicago8
San Francisco8
Atlanta7
Buffalo7
Cincinnati7
Denver 7
N.Y. Giants7
Philadelphia7
Carolina6
Miami6
Minnesota6
Oakland6
Arizona5
Dallas5
Indianapolis5
Kansas City5
Tennessee5
Houston4
New England4
New Orleans4
Baltimore3
St. Louis3
Green Bay2
N.Y. Jets2
San Diego2
Seattle2
Tampa Bay2
Washington 2
Jacksonville0
Pittsburgh0

Regardless, it’s got to be a good sign that Burnett had two interceptions on Friday. Just like it’s a good sign that Burnett (one) and HaHa Clinton-Dix (two) combined for three safeties in the NFC Championship Game.

“You just build that confidence as a whole and as a defense,” Burnett said. “You work together and you take advantage of these practices. That’s where you build your confidence going into a game. You work on your technique, going against all of our great receivers, going against the best quarterback in the game in A-Rod, that’s going to make us all better as players. Once you build that confidence in practice, you go into the games and you’re prepared and you trust the defense. The defense will put you in position to make plays.”

Rookie focus

Of the draft picks, the only one getting any first-team reps is first-round cornerback Damarious Randall. (Unless you count Jake Ryan taking a few first-team reps at inside linebacker when Clay Matthews shifted outside.) It’s early, obviously, but Randall might be a factor early in the season. In perhaps the best play anyone has made during training camp, Randall was beaten by a step on a deep route up the left sideline by rookie receiver Jimmie Hunt. Hunt had the ball but, as both players fell to the ground, Randall knocked the ball loose. Later, his tight coverage on Jeff Janis helped create a sack, and then he batted away a fourth-and-1 pass.

Chances are Randall’s not going to be one of the three starting cornerbacks in Week 1. But, if nothing else, the dime position is his for the taking.

“It just shows what type of athlete he is, what type of player he can be,” cornerback Casey Hayward said. “He’s been doing a great job since he’s been here and hopefully that trend stays going up and he can help this defense out.”

Quoteworthy

Defensive tackle Mike Daniels, on the potential of being in the middle of any fisticuffs when the pads go on for Saturday’s practice: “I have a pretty short fuse as it is. I’ve been that way since I’ve been a little kid. That’s just how I play the game. Everybody is different. It’s not personal because we all come into the locker room, ‘Oh man, you kind of hit me in the chest.’ ‘Oh, it’s no big deal. You slapped me in the face.’ That’s just the nature of the game because we all know between the whistles we’re competing and we’re trying to give everything that we have. When practice is over, it’s like it never happened.”


Bill Huber is publisher of 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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