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Can Packers Handle Losing Morgan Burnett?

When Burnett missed the New Orleans game last season, Drew Brees had almost as many touchdown passes as incompletions.

There’s a reason why Morgan Burnett was named a playoff captain by his teammates.

During the one game the Packers’ veteran safety missed last season, the Saints crushed Green Bay 44-23. Drew Brees completed 27-of-32 passes for 311 yards with three touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 138.4.

Burnett’s status is in doubt for Sunday’s season-opening game against the Bears. He missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday with an injured calf. The Packers do not practice on Friday and have a light workout on Saturday before heading to Chicago.

“We've worked a lot of different combinations through the preseason and that's part of the plan,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said on Thursday. “You want to try to prepare yourself for any of those guys being out. That's the nature of the game and, if that happens, we have guys prepared to step in.”

If Burnett isn’t given the green light to play, the most likely scenario is nickel cornerback Micah Hyde would move to safety to start alongside Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. That was the starting safety duo for that nightmarish game at New Orleans on Oct. 26. While Clinton-Dix played extensively in each of the first six games, that New Orleans game marked his second career start.

“Both of those guys have so much more experience,” safeties coach Darren Perry said. “If they have to play, whatever combination we use or whatever we have to put out there, I feel comfortable with all three guys (plus Chris Banjo). They’ve done a good job. We’ll see. We’ve still got til Sunday.”

Clinton-Dix, last year’s first-round pick, produced a solid rookie season. He finished second on the team with 95 tackles and tied for fourth with 11 passes defensed. After intercepting one pass in the regular season, he notched two thefts in the NFC Championship Game.

To take the next step, Clinton-Dix has focused on trying to be a better communicator. That will be put to the test if Burnett doesn’t play.

“That’s one of the things I’ve been working on is trying to be more vocal on the back end and not always depending on Morgan,” Clinton-Dix said. “The guys that are out there, they’re very comfortable with the play calls and they’re very relaxed. Micah’s back there with me and he’s very vocal. If he needs me, I’m there, but Micah knows the system just as well as I do. It won’t be an issue.”

Taking on that vocal role is the next step in a young player’s career, Perry said.

“The more comfortable you become, the louder you become, the more confident you become and your communication improves,” Perry said. “That’s all part of experience and growing as a player and understanding what we’re trying to get done defensively and what his role is.”

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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.


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