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Packers' Rookie Ha Ha Clinton-Dix Is Not Joking Around

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The rookie from Alabama is going to be laughing all the way to the starting lineup if he keeps playing the way he has.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has lived up to his draft position so far, a rarity for a Ted Thompson-selected defensive player
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has lived up to his draft position so far, a rarity for a Ted Thompson-selected defensive player
Gregory Shamus

If the first four games of the Green Bay Packers' regular season are any indication, the starting safety position is still a laughing matter.

Except this time it's because of the name of the player and not the play on the field.

After bottoming out with M.D. Jennings and Morgan Burnett last season, an overhaul at the position was needed.  The Packers went out and selected Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round of this spring's NFL Draft.  Burnett was given a stay of execution (likely due to his contract) but Jennings was kicked to the curb and released. Promising second-year corner Micah Hyde also would be given a shot at the safety position.

Clinton-Dix, despite his draft status, was not given an immediate starting role and Hyde and Burnett were the two starting safeties for Green Bay when they opened the season in Seattle against the Seahawks. It seemed the rookie was going to have to earn a starting spot.

He hasn't officially started a game yet, but he is definitely on his way.

While the Packers were otherwise dominated by Seattle in Week 1, Clinton-Dix made his presence known. He recorded his first NFL sack against the elusive Russell Wilson and also recovered a fumble and deflected a pass. The fact that he was disappointed in his play after the game showed that Clinton-Dix still was hungry for more.

In Week 3 against the Detroit Lions, he had his first career interception, which also happened to be the first by a Packers safety since December of 2012. He also had another pass deflection.

He might not be starting but Clinton-Dix is definitely having an impact and is earning the respect of the defensive coaching staff. The game Sunday against the Bears was proof. According to Pro Football Focus, Clinton-Dix was in on 61 of the defensive snaps, second among Packers safeties behind Morgan Burnett's 70. The next closest? Hyde, the starter, at 33.

When you look at what Hyde did with those 33 snaps it really gets interesting. 19 of those were in coverage and the other 14 were in run defense. Clinton Dix's 61 saw a perfect 30-30 split in run vs. pass defense with the other snap coming when he was rushing the passer. Clinton-Dix was credited for a quarterback hurry on that play, by the way.

Clinton-Dix also may have made the game saving play at the end of the first half. The Bears were inside the red zone when Jay Cutler found tight end Martellus Bennett at the one yard line. Clinton-Dix wrapped him up and brought him down before the ball apparently crossed the plane. Hyde did his part in this play by blocking the replay camera, making it impossible for the booth to overturn the call on the field.

He might not be starting but the evidence on tape as well as the snap counts show that Clinton-Dix is on the rise. The rookie is going to make mistakes, but early signs indicate the NFL game won't be too fast for him, which is critical when trying to determine how a young player will do as his career develops.

There was concern after he was drafted about how well Clinton-Dix would play at the line of scrimmage and that probably is where he needs work the most. The Green Bay rush defense is atrocious right now, ranking dead last in the NFL allowing a ridiculous 176 yards per game. This is by no means on Clinton-Dix, but the unit as a whole needs to get better. Fundamental tackling again seems to be an issue with this defense and that would go a long way towards fixing the struggles against the run.

He's not Nick Collins yet, but Clinton-Dix by all signs seems to be the answer to the Packers' prayers at the safety position. His presence has helped Burnett shake off a terrible 2013 and helped improve the position that was Green Bay's Achilles heel a year ago.

If he can continue improving, this could allow Hyde to be moved all around the secondary whether it is as a safety or a corner in nickel and dime packages. Hyde is a gifted athlete himself and should be moved wherever his skills can best be utilized. Knowing both positions in the secondary is a great benefit.

General manager Ted Thompson has taken a lot of flak for his poor selection of defensive players not named Clay Matthews or Mike Daniels and it was much deserved.

That said, should Clinton-Dix continue to improve and realize the potential he has shown so far then it will be Thompson's turn to laugh at his critics.

Hopefully, he'll be laughing all the way to another Super Bowl title.