Through eight games of the 2018 regular season, the Green Bay Packers’ defense has played seven defensive backs with regularity. Seven players have at least 220 snaps each, which represents about 40% of the team’s overall defensive plays.
In the last eight days, however, the Packers have gotten rid of two of them.
A week ago, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was dealt to Washington at the trade deadline, followed this week by Jermaine Whitehead’s release. That’s two prominent safeties gone, players who have played a combined 680 snaps this season in Green and Gold. However, that does not seem to faze head coach Mike McCarthy, who was asked a multitude of questions about the team’s secondary depth in his press conference on Wednesday.
In fact, McCarthy seemed to praise each of the individuals he received questions about, including a pair of players who are in line to pick up a large portion of the workload opened up by the new vacancies.
One such player is veteran cornerback Tramon Williams, who played primarily free safety in Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots. Although it’s a role Williams has played at times in the past, it came as a bit of a crash course for him after the Clinton-Dix trade. Still, McCarthy was pleased with his performance, particularly in regards to his range on the back end. “I think he played a good football game,” McCarthy said, especially in light of having “some moving parts in the secondary with the injury to Kevin (King).”
Taking Williams’ place on the outside was veteran Bashaud Breeland, who played 68 of 71 possible snaps on Sunday. McCarthy notably did not praise his performance in that game explicitly, but did have good things to say about him overall as a player: “He’s a competitive corner,” McCarthy said. “I like his flexibility, he can play inside or outside. It’s good to have him out there.”
Then there’s safety Josh Jones, who had been banished to the scout team and special teams until this week’s game. Jones filled in heavily for Kentrell Brice, who was pulled from the game with an injury early on and did not return. McCarthy said he “thought Josh did some really good things,” mentioning specifically a tackle on first-and-goal near the end zone: “I thought the play he made, he started the goal line stand down there on first down.” Jones should see more action moving forward.
Finally, there’s the Whitehead factor. By reading between the lines on McCarthy’s comments on Whitehead’s release, it’s clear that there is some sort of method to general manager Brian Gutekunst’s recent madness. “I think it’s like all personnel moves, there’s a lot that goes into it,” McCarthy said. “Clearly, the pattern and the emphasis of what’s going on with our personnel department — Brian, his imprint on the football team — there’s been change, particularly the last two weeks. It’s not one thing, it’s a combination of things. It’s a decision that’s been made and there’s opportunity for other players.”
Whether McCarthy is or isn’t fully on board with Gutekunst’s recent moves is immaterial; he and his defensive coaching staff have to find a way to field an effective secondary sans two key contributors. Furthermore, it’s obvious that he does think he has talent in the room to carry out that mission, even if it’s unclear whether he was supportive of the subtractions.