We at Acme Packing Company have strung together a couple of articles in the past week breaking down players that will be playing for a roster spot in 2013. We have covered tight end Andrew Quarless and defensive end C.J. Wilson — next in the series is M.D Jennings.
Unlike Quarless and Wilson, I don't believe Jennings is fighting for a roster spot this offseason so to speak, but instead for the starting strong safety position. In the mix at strong safety for the Packers is the afore mentioned Jennings, second-year man Jerron McMillian and Sean Richardson.
In 2012 McMillian and Jennings split time at safety doing a solid job for the NFL's No. 11 ranked defense (No. 11 against the pass). Their playing time was almost exactly even with Jennings playing a total of 617 snaps and McMillian playing 614 snaps. Richardson, on the other hand, missed the majority of the season with a neck injury in a primary special teams role when healthy.
According to Pro Football Focus McMillian slightly had the better year. McMillian earned an overall rating of + 1.9, while Jennings had a - 1.3 ratting. Jennings was below average against the run earning a - 3.1 rating, while McMillian was solid with a 0.0 rating. Both were solid in pass coverage with Jennings earning a + 1.9 and McMillian earning a + 2.5. However, in the playoffs it appeared the Packers were more comfortable playing Jennings as opposed to McMillian. In the two playoffs games the Packers played Jennings 44 out of a possible 143 snaps — McMillian played a total of just five snaps in those two games combined.
To the naked eye it was tough to distinguish between the performances of Jennings and McMillian, but as you can see McMillian graded out slightly better than Jennings. However, when crunch time came it was Jennings earning the playing time.
There is a dark horse in this race, however. I mentioned before that Richardson played only five games last year in a limited role before being injured. All signs point to him being fully recovered for the start of the offseason. Richardson has the perfect safety frame at 6'2" 220 pounds. He was an undrafted free agent in 2012 out of Vanderbilt University and he started 31 consecutive games to end his collegiate carrer and racked up over 200 career tackles.
The Packers gave the group a vote of confidence by not selecting a safety in the draft. Green Bay decided to pass on safeties like FIU's Jonathan Cyprien, Florida's Matt Elam and Georgia Southern's J.J. Wilcox. By passing on these players it appears that the organization is confident in Jennings, McMillian, and possibly Richardson.
With that said, don't count out the Packers making a dip into free agency and signing a veteran safety to bring to training camp. The strong safety position will be one of those position battles to watch for this offseason, and "The Doctor" can take some serious steps toward earning that job with a good performance in OTAs and minicamp.