Packers need Clinton-Dix to contribute

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The opening of rookie orientation camp Friday should have been all about Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

It was the first chance to eyeball the 21st overall pick in the draft, the jewel of general manager Ted Thompson's rookie class, on the Green Bay Packers' practice field.

But the unexpected appearance of former Oregon tight end Colt Lyerla on a tryout basis turned out to be a much bigger headline-grabber, if for no other reason than the shock of seeing one of the most talented yet troubled tight ends in the draft wearing Packers colors.

However, when the Packers get down to the business of preparing their rookies, a process that is only just beginning, their top priority should be Clinton-Dix. Like most of the other 57 players who took part in Friday's practice, the rookie safety from Alabama did little to stand out.

That's not a problem in May.

But come August, when training camp is full go, and more importantly when the season opens Sept. 4 in Seattle against the defending Super Bowl champs, the Packers need Clinton-Dix -- more than perhaps any other rookie -- to be ready for a major role.

"They brought me here for a reason," Clinton-Dix said after Friday's practice. "I love to play safety. I'm here. I'm ready for it."

A year ago, first-round pick Datone Jones spouted similar words during his first NFL camp. The same could likely be found in the archives from Nick Perry and Derek Sherrod, the Packers' first-round picks in 2012 and 2011, respectively.

But none of them made much of an impact right away.

Jones posted just 3.5 sacks (two of which came in the same game) despite playing every game last season. Perry lasted only six games of his rookie season before knee and wrist injuries ended it. Sherrod did even less, failing to win a starting job on the offensive line, before he sustained a horrific broken leg late in his first season that cost him all of 2012 and most of last season.

There's reason to think Clinton-Dix's rookie year could be different

For one, he was selected earlier in the first round -- five spots higher than Jones, seven spots higher than Perry and 11 higher than Sherrod.

And then there's the situation he has walked into at safety, a position that did not produce a single interception last season. The Packers did not even bother to make an offer to restricted free agent M.D. Jennings, who started every game at free safety last season, so the spot is wide open for Clinton-Dix.

He lined up mostly at free safety during Friday's drills, which included only rookies and some players who were on the practice squad last year. Playing that spot as a sophomore in 2012, Clinton-Dix posted five interceptions. He had only two picks as a junior last season, when he played more strong safety.

"Being a first-round pick, you want to come in and help your team contribute the best you can as far as being on special teams or doing anything to make your team better," Clinton-Dix said.

Even if the Packers aren't saying it, they need more from their first-round pick than just special teams contributions.

"I think he's off to a good start," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Friday.