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Morgan Burnett’s move to the slot may save the Packers’ secondary

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Since moving to nickel corner in Week 3, Burnett has locked down the inside.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
Morgan Burnett’s move to the nickel corner has allowed Green Bay to maximize the growth of its rookie DBs.
USA TODAY NETWORK

He started as a safety, then become a linebacker, a slot corner and anything else Dom Capers could dream.

One move in particular, the latest one for Morgan Burnett, may hold the key to unlocking the potential of this Packers secondary.

Moving Kevin King into the lineup in Week 2 shook up the cornerback group. Quinten Rollins has had a great view of the games from the bench ever since.

But the chain reaction started with Kentrell Brice going down. Instead of inserting Josh Jones into Brice’s spot outright, or moving Burnett back to his safety spot, Capers had another plan: play Burnett as the nickel corner in the slot and let Jones play his more natural Nitro linebacker position.

The returns were immediate. Josh Jones broke out in his debut against the Bengals, leading the team in tackles and posting a pair of sacks.

Less noticed though, was the play of Burnett who played almost exclusively in the slot against Cincinnati.

In 28 coverage snaps, Burnett put up a goose egg: no catches allowed on no targets. He was the only regular corner in football to put the collar on an opponent.

A week later against the Bears, the former safety allowed just a single catch on 31 coverage snaps.

That makes two weeks, 59 coverage snaps, and just a single catch.

Eventually, that will change. He will give up some catches against good offenses and above-average slot receivers, but the flexibility he’s allowed Capers to employ, while also making room to get Josh Jones on the field, could inexorably alter the course of this defensive backfield this season.

If Davon House comes back sooner rather than later and Kevin King makes some progress, the fact that Quinten Rollins and Damarious Randall can’t seem to find any level of consistency won’t hurt the Packers.

Josh Hawkins coming in and playing well against the Bears only further illustrates Burnett’s impact on this team.

King has the outside corner job locked down barring injury. He may not be great (yet) but he’s not giving up big plays and seems to know his assignments consistently.

With House back in the fold, that’s the base of this defense taken care of at corner with King opposite him and Burnett in the slot.

The dynamic Jones stays on the field to play his Nitro ‘backer role and Kentrell Brice gets to find more chances to be a playmaker, something we saw last Thursday with his interception of Mike Glennon.

If Hawkins is the fourth corner — even if he’s technically the third outside corner -- that doesn’t kill a defense. The failures of Rollins and Randall may not kill this defense because King and Jones look like players, but more so because the Packers can rely on Burnett to handle the slot.

That was the big question coming into the year: who takes the slot? It appeared to be a race between Randall and Rollins. Those days are over.

It’s Burnett’s job and his ability to handle it with alacrity may be the spark this unit needs to become a quality passing defense.