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NFL: JUL 31 Green Bay Packers Training Camp

Packers have quantity in backup safety competition, but quality remains a question

The Packers have four young safeties looking to earn one or two roster spots to back up Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage.

Photo by Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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The Green Bay Packers boast one of the best starting defensive backfields in the NFL on paper heading towards the 2022 season, and the safeties are a big reason why. Adrian Amos has been one of the steadiest, most consistent players at his position since he signed with Green Bay three years ago, while Darnell Savage has shown brilliant flashes at times.

Those two form a dynamic duo on the back end of the defense, and the Packers’ defense has generally been successful at avoiding getting burned by the deep ball on many occasions. However, the depth at the safety position behind this players is one of the few question marks on that side of the ball for Joe Barry’s defense, as the team will need to develop a reliable player behind Amos and Savage should one of them miss time with an injury or should Barry elect to field a safety as a dime back like he did for much of the 2021 season.

There’s the problem for Barry and defensive backs coach Jerry Gray: while there are plenty of youthful, talented players to work with, there is virtually no NFL experience behind the veteran starters. At the start of OTAs, the Packers have four other safeties on the 90-man roster who will be jockeying for one or two roster spots. That number swells to five if you include seventh-round draft pick Tariq Carpenter, but with head coach Matt LaFleur saying that Carpenter will start his work with the inside linebackers, let’s leave him out for the time being. And among this group, only one has ever taken a live game rep on defense in a regular season NFL game.

Special teams will be a critical facet of the decision-making process at this position as well, but ultimately the Packers need to find a player or two that they feel comfortable with dropping in on defense on occasion. Let’s take a look at each of the four players who are in contention.

Shawn Davis

A 5-foot-11, 202-pounder out of the University of Florida, Davis was a fifth-round draft pick by the Indianapolis Colts in 2021. However, he failed to make the 53-man roster after a training camp that was marred by a hamstring injury and a brutal performance in the Colts’ final preseason game. One beat writer said he counted at least three missed tackles and a dropped interception while , which led to Davis landing on Indianapolis’ practice squad after final cuts and on the waiver wire just two weeks later.

How much his missed time in camp affected him is unclear, but the Packers scooped up the struggling safety onto their own practice squad a few days later. Green Bay would eventually promote him to the 53-man roster in December, though he was active for only one game over the final month of the season.

What does Davis bring to the table, though, besides a less-than-stellar performance in his first training camp? At Florida, he showed some ball skills, recording five interceptions in his two years as a starter. There appears to be some serious athleticism there as well; Davis’ only available testing numbers during the 2021 training circuit are his vertical and broad jumps, but both were excellent, each putting him in the 92nd percentile at his position.

Interestingly, Davis has dealt with some confidence issues dating back to his college days, when he gave up a long touchdown pass against Michigan in his first college action. That came in his first game as a freshman in 2017, and the score was the result of him missing an assignment on the play. But since then, he has seemingly found ways to build that confidence back up with the support of coaches, teammates, and his parents.

Perhaps confidence was a challenge for Davis last summer too. But if so, a full 2021 season and 2022 offseason with the Packers’ coaching staff and some tutelage from quality veterans might be just what he needs to become a quality contributor moving forward.

Innis Gaines

In 2019, the TCU Horned Frogs started Innis Gaines and Vernon Scott at safety. By the spring of 2021, both of those players were Green Bay Packers, with Gaines signing a futures contract at the end of the 2020 campaign. Gaines went undrafted in 2020 and was out of football for that entire season, spending the year driving for DoorDash and rehabbing a torn ACL that sidelined him for the last four games of his senior year in Fort Worth.

Gaines got just one pro workout in 2020 during and after his rehab, that coming in Green Bay in August — more than four months before the Packers signed him. But when he was fully healthy in 2021, Gaines flashed occasionally on defense and pretty consistently on special teams, earning him a spot on the practice squad. Like Davis, Gaines played in just one game in 2021; in fact, both were active for the Christmas Day game against the Browns and both played exclusively on special teams.

Gaines is one of the bigger players in this group of safeties at 6-foot-1 and 202 pounds, and he had a knack for making plays in the backfield for TCU, posting back-to-back seasons with six or more tackles for loss in 2017 and 2018. This is now his second full offseason in Green Bay and if he can build on the progress he made last summer, Gaines will be right in the conversation for that backup job.

Vernon Scott

As Gaines’ running mate at TCU in 2019, Scott had the flashiest play of the two, recording a 98-yard pick-six. That helped put him on the Packers’ radar, and the team made him a seventh-round draft pick in 2020.

Scott was unable to put his athleticism on record in 2020, as he did not receive an invite to the Scouting Combine and saw TCU’s Pro Day canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic. But he played in 15 games as a rookie, logging 89 snaps on defense and another 184 on special teams — the latter being the fifth-most of any player on the roster.

This makes Scott the only member of this group to have logged a snap on defense in an NFL game, naturally giving him a leg up. However, he played only three games in 2021 under new coordinator Joe Barry, as Henry Black leapfrogged Scott on the depth chart to claim the third safety role. One possible reason for the setback was that Scott missed much of the early portion of last year’s training camp with an injury, which may have left him behind in picking up the defensive scheme.

Still, Scott has made a few plays as an NFL player, and at 6-foot-2, he has quality size for an NFL safety. Between his status as a draft pick and the fact that he has logged at least some NFL snaps, he’s probably the front-runner to back up Amos and Savage as of day one of OTAs.

Tre Sterling

The final member of the group is the Packers’ lone rookie at the safety position, signed as an undrafted free agent after a career at Oklahoma State. Sterling was widely expected to be headed for the 2022 NFL Draft after a big junior year in 2020, but a significant wrist injury as a senior and a poor Pro Day workout knocked him down into UDFA territory.

Still, a look back at Sterling’s sophomore and junior year stats show why he was still a candidate to hear his name called during the Draft. The 6-foot, 205-pounder simply made plays, racking up at least 70 total tackles, 8 TFLs, and 6 combined pass defenses (INTs plus pass breakups) in each of his two full seasons as a starter.

Another positive for Sterling is his ability to play multiple positions. In 2019, he logged more than 200 snaps each as a box safety, free safety, and in the slot, according to Pro Football Focus, and although he was more focused on playing in the box as a junior he still hit 100 snaps at each spot in 2020.

That versatility could give Sterling a leg up, as the Packers like to deploy their safeties all over the field. The biggest question for now is whether his play speed is faster than the 4.71 that he ran in the 40 at his Pro Day.

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