Ever since Nick Collins went down with a neck injury in 2011, play at the safety position for the Packers has been, shall we say, not so good. Morgan Burnett has shown to be a capable player, but his 2013 campaign was about as remarkable as wallpaper. Aside from him, the Packers have turned to a number of other safeties to fill the void. There's been Chris Banjo, something called a Jerron McMillian, and perhaps most significantly, M.D. Jennings - aka ‘The Doctor' - who, if we're going by his nickname, would have been sued for malpractice.
So it's no wonder Ted Thompson turned to the safety position in this year's draft, selecting Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with the 21st overall pick. This was supposed to move Morgan Burnett back to his original spot as strong safety, helping the position to finally reach a level of play that doesn't induce throwing things across the room.
The interesting thing is, the Packers might not have needed Dix after all.
During the off-season, Mike McCarthy suggested Micah Hyde would see time at safety, which many of us thought was true, but only with the caveat that the Packers drafted a player at another position like C.J. Mosley or my well-established man crush, Ryan Shazier. But the Packers did draft Dix.
And yet, Micah Hyde is still getting plenty of time at safety during training camp.
The reason for this is simple - Micah Hyde is just a really good football player. I know it's cliché, but it's the truth. He's consistently around the ball, he plays well in the box and, as I suggested on our most recent podcast, he might be the surest tackler of anyone in the secondary. Basically, Micah Hyde does everything you want a safety to do. And yet, he's not the only one stepping up at the position.
Sean Richardson has been equally impressive in camp. On the cusp of taking a similar path as Nick Collins due to a neck injury, Richardson was cleared last year, but only produced middling results in limited time at safety and special teams as he gradually worked his way back into a regular contributor.
His performance in training camp so far this year has been a different story. Here are just a few observations from our friends covering training camp:
And while the main story of the safety group's ineffectiveness has focused on their lack of turnovers (zero interceptions last year) Richardson brings something to the table the secondary has sorely lacked for some time - the ability to knock the ever-living snot out of someone.
Between Sam Shields, Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward, Burnett, etc. the Packers carry plenty of ball-hawking coverage type players. But few bring the wood quite like Richardson. He's a physical player who looks a lot like someone you'd see blowing dudes up as a member of the Seahawks.
So the question is, was Clinton-Dix a waste of a pick?
Not at all.
Granted, it's hard to say how much he'll contribute without having seen him in an actual game yet, but that has more to do with the dice-rolling nature of the draft than it does the newfound depth at safety. If you assume that Dix is the player most thought the Packers were getting, he gives Capers and the defense at the very least more flexibility. Not only that, but he's another healthy body - something the Packers never seem to have a surplus of.
But the flexibility thing is key. During a press conference at this year's NFL combine, McCarthy expressed his desire for "more creativity" and to "utilize players in more than one role" by leveraging the versatility of their defensive players. A lot of that had to do with the defensive line and getting athletic players like Datone Jones more involved, but all of a sudden, the Packers seem to have a wealth of talent at a position just recently considered to be a glaring weakness.
The trick will then be how to get all these players on the field. So far in camp we've seen a number of formations (particularly in sub-packages) that have at least gotten Hyde and Dix playing at the same time. But if Richardson continues to make a push, Capers and McCarthy will have a tough decision to make. Either way, this dilemma could finally be the kind of problem at safety they haven't had in some time:
A good one.