Green Bay Packers: Morgan Burnett

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Pick after pick crawled across the bottom of television screens last April 25, 26 and 27 and those wondering when the Green Bay Packers would draft a safety got their answer when the 254th -- and final -- pick in the 2013 NFL draft was announced.

Three safeties went in the first round, but none to the Packers.

Two more came off the board in Round 2, but neither was a Packers pick.

[+] EnlargeHa Ha Clinton-Dix
AP Photo/Rogelio SolisHa Ha Clinton-Dix may be available to the Packers when they draft in the first round.
Seventeen more were drafted on the third and final day, yet the Packers still had not filled one of their biggest needs.

That's not to say they went into last year's draft wholly convinced that they didn't need help at the position. But when it came time to exercise each of his selections, there wasn't a safety sitting there that intrigued general manager Ted Thompson enough to make that call.

Thompson liked a few of the safeties in the draft, but the ones he was sold on were either already off the board or would have been a reach at the time of his pick.

So here are the Packers, nearly a year later, and Thompson still has not put pen to paper on a contract for a new safety of any consequence. (And no, street free agent Chris Banjo does not count.)

That has to change next month, when Thompson will take nine selections into the May 8-10 NFL draft, doesn't it?

If Thompson fails to land one of the top, say, five or six safeties in this draft -- be it Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama or Calvin Pryor of Louisville, both of who are locks to go in the first round; or possible second- and third-round picks like Jimmie Ward of Northern Illinois, Deone Bucannon of Washington State or Terrence Brooks of Florida State -- then he will be handcuffing defensive coordinator Dom Capers in much the same fashion he did last season.

Last summer, Capers and coach Mike McCarthy opened the competition at free safety to a pair of second-year players, Jerron McMillian (a 2012 fourth-round round pick) and M.D. Jennings (an undrafted free agent the same year). It was a close competition, more so because neither one stood out, and when strong safety Morgan Burnett was unavailable for the season opener because of a hamstring injury, that duo started Week 1 at the two safety spots.

The Packers thought so little of their performances that they cut McMillian late last season and did not even bother this offseason to offer Jennings a restricted free agent tender, which would not have cost them any guaranteed money.

"Obviously we didn't get the production that we wanted from that [free safety] position," safeties coach Darren Perry said this offseason.

To be sure, the Packers need Burnett to show that Thompson wasn't misguided when he signed him to a four-year, $24.75 million contract last summer.

"I think he's fully capable of doing it," McCarthy said this offseason. "Morgan's going to do everything he can. He needs to be more assertive in play-making opportunities."

In order for Burnett to flourish, he can't be worried about the player lined up next to him. That player was supposed to be Nick Collins, the three-time Pro Bowl safety whose career was cut short in 2011 by a neck injury. At age 30, he still would have been in the prime of his career last season.

If the Packers don't find another Collins, they must at least come close.

Since the team's resurgence in the early 1990s, they have enjoyed a strong group of safeties -- from LeRoy Butler to Darren Sharper to Collins; all were Pro Bowl selections during their time in Green Bay.

The dynamic of the position has changed in recent years. Whereas Butler was a fierce hitter, today's safeties are judged just as much on speed and ball skills as anything else. What NFL teams need now are safeties than can cover chunks of yardage in milliseconds and knock passes away or, better yet, intercept them. The Packers were the only team in the NFL last season that didn't get a single interception from a safety.

"The intimidator isn't necessarily needed anymore," ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. said. "The big hitters, you don't need that."

Kiper doesn't believe Clinton-Dix will be around when the Packers come up at No. 21 in the first round, but Pryor very well could be available.

Even if Pryor is gone or Thompson passes on him, he will have other options, says Kiper.

"Jimmy Ward from Northern Illinois you could make an argument is the best cover safety in the draft," Kiper said. "He's coming off the [foot] injury but he had a very good career, has great ball skills, real good hands for the interception. And Ward is a decent tackler, but he doesn't have tremendous size [5-foot-11, 193 pounds].

"The days of that big, intimidating safety are just about over. Terrence Brooks from Florida State would fill that void at that point as a safety that could come in and help you right away."

No matter what Thompson does in the draft, Capers and McCarthy plan to work cornerback Micah Hyde at safety this offseason. Perhaps the fifth-round pick out of Iowa last year will be the full-time answer; he certainly showed enough as a rookie to warrant more than the 39.4 percent playing time he got last year. But if the Packers think Hyde can allow them to concentrate on other areas of need in the draft, they'd better be right.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- When free agency began a month ago, the Green Bay Packers had the sixth-most salary-cap space among all NFL teams.

A month later, even after re-signing several of their own free agents and adding Julius Peppers, their salary-cap situation remains healthy.

They are currently $15,636,891 under their adjusted salary cap for the 2014 season. That ranks as the seventh-most cap space available, according to the latest figures from ESPN Stats & Information contract data.

The Packers will need about $5 million in cap space for their rookie salaries.

At this time of year, only the top 51 contracts count toward the salary cap.

With that in mind, here's a position-by-position look at the Packers' salary-cap situation under the top 51 rule. On Thursday, we looked at the offense. Today, we look at the defense:

Neal
Defensive end

Percentage of salary-cap space used: 7.56

Total cap charge: $9,648,919

NFL average: $12,840,629

Biggest cap hit: Mike Neal, $3,750,000

Biggest bargain: Mike Daniels, $645,146

Outlook: For the purpose of this exercise, we're putting Neal in the defensive end category along with Peppers ($3.75 million cap charge for 2014) because that's how the ESPN Stats & Information salary system has them categorized. In reality, though, Neal, Peppers and perhaps outside linebacker Nick Perry all will play a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker position. Daniels made a jump from two sacks as a rookie to 6.5 last season and should get more opportunities this year. Peppers' salary-cap number spikes to $12 million next season. Also, Peppers currently counts nearly $8.3 million in dead money on the Chicago Bears' salary cap.

Raji
Defensive tackle

Percentage of salary-cap space used: 4.31

Total cap charge: $5,496,453

NFL average: $8,979256

Biggest cap hit: B.J. Raji, $4,000,000

Biggest bargain: Josh Boyd, $531,140

Outlook: Raji returned under a one-year deal after a disappointing 2013 season, but the Packers will move him back to his more natural position, nose tackle. Boyd, a fifth-round pick last season, saw increased playing time late in his rookie year and could have an even greater role this season. Letroy Guion, who signed to a one-year deal last month after he was cut by the Minnesota Vikings, would count $965,313 against the cap if he makes the team. If he doesn’t, only his $100,000 bonus would count on the cap.

Matthews
Linebacker

Percentage of salary-cap space used: 19.96

Total cap charge: $25,463,640

NFL average: $15,493,188

Biggest cap hit: Clay Matthews, $10,943,750

Biggest bargain: Andy Mulumba, $496,666

Outlook: The Packers have five linebackers, including Matthews, that count more than $1 million against this year’s cap. The others are A.J. Hawk ($5.1 million), Brad Jones ($3.925 million), Perry ($2.045 million) and Jamari Lattimore ($1.431 million).

Williams
Cornerback

Percentage of salary-cap space used: 15.81

Total cap charge: $20,173,209

NFL average: $12,150,127

Biggest cap hit: Tramon Williams, $9 million

Biggest bargain: Micah Hyde, $539,527

Outlook: There was some doubt last season about whether Williams would be back under the terms of the final year of his contract, but he finished the season playing perhaps as well as he did during the Super Bowl run in 2010. The four-year, $39 million contract that Sam Shields signed last month has a moderate cap number this year ($5.562 million) but jumps to $9.125 million next season and $12.125 million in each of the following two seasons.

Burnett
Safety

Percentage of salary-cap space used: 4.63

Total cap charge: $5,910,418

NFL average: $8,315,431

Biggest cap hit: Morgan Burnett, $4,843,750

Biggest bargain: Sean Richardson, $571,668

Outlook: There will be additions to this position, likely through the draft and perhaps even in the first or second round. The Packers also plan to use Hyde some at safety but haven't committed to him moving full time from cornerback. Richardson is a promising prospect who returned late last season from neck surgery.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- With the bulk of the free-agent work done, it's a good time to recheck the Green Bay Packers' depth chart leading up to the May 8-10 NFL draft.

On Thursday, we broke down the way things look on offense.

Next up is the defense:

Defensive end: Datone Jones, Josh Boyd, Jerel Worthy.

[+] EnlargeDatone Jones
AP Photo/Morry GashThe Packers are counting on defensive end Datone Jones to rebound in his second season.
Analysis: The Packers have high hopes for Jones despite a disappointing rookie season in which the former first-round pick was slowed by an ankle injury and recorded just 3.5 sacks (two of which came in one game). "I feel he's one of those second-year players who [can] take a huge jump," coach Mike McCarthy said of Jones earlier this offseason. "That will be my expectations for him." Boyd, a fifth-round pick, actually saw more playing time late last season than Jones. Worthy played in only two games a year after he blew out his knee.

Defensive tackle: B.J. Raji, Mike Daniels, Letroy Guion.

Analysis: Moving Raji back to nose tackle on a full-time basis should help his production, which declined sharply over the last three years following a move to defensive end. Daniels was perhaps the team's most improved player last season, which should lead to an even bigger role this season. Guion, who was cut the Minnesota Vikings, will have to battle for a roster spot.

Elephant: Julius Peppers, Nick Perry, Mike Neal.

Analysis: Elephant is a catch-all term for the multiple positions this trio will play. They will be part outside linebacker, part defensive end and part defensive tackle. The addition of Peppers, who was signed last month after being released by the Chicago Bears, should boost the pass rush. Expect Perry to play more on the right side this season, where he was far more impactful last season. These players will actually be tutored by linebackers coach Winston Moss.

Inside linebacker: A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones, Jamari Lattimore, Sam Barrington, Victor Aiyewa.

Analysis: Hawk had perhaps his best season last year, but Jones was a disappointment after signing a three-year, $11.75 million contract and could be on shaky ground for a starting job. Lattimore, a restricted free agent who has yet to sign his tender, got some playing time last year while Jones was hurt and could push for the starting job. So could Barrington, a promising rookie who missed the second half of the season because of a hamstring injury.

Outside linebacker: Clay Matthews, Andy Mulumba, Nate Palmer, Chase Thomas.

Analysis: Neal and Perry played almost exclusively at outside linebacker last season, so there's a good chance they'll be a big part of this group again. But behind Matthews are a couple of second-year players, Mulumba and Palmer, who played more than anyone expected last year as a rookies. Mulumba, an undrafted free agent, played better than Palmer, a sixth-round pick. Thomas was signed early in the offseason off the street after spending most of last season on the Atlanta Falcons' practice squad.

Safeties: Morgan Burnett, Sean Richardson, Chris Banjo.

Analysis: Easily the thinnest position on the roster, there's still likely to be several additions here, probably via the draft. However, McCarthy said cornerback Micah Hyde will get some work at safety. Whether he's a candidate to start next to Burnett (a strong safety), however, remains to be seen. Burnett needs to bounce back from a disappointing season, but there's little reason to think his job is in jeopardy. Richardson returned late last season from a serious neck injury and showed promise. Banjo played more early in the season than he did late last year.

Cornerbacks: Sam Shields, Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward, Micah Hyde, Jarrett Bush, Davon House, James Nixon, Jumel Rolle, Antonio Dennard.

Analysis: This is among the Packers' deepest positions thanks to the return of Shields, who signed a four-year, $39 million contract, and Hayward, who is expected to be healthy after a hamstring injury limited him to just three games last season. Williams closed the season playing perhaps as well as he did during the Super Bowl season of 2010, which is why they kept him despite a $7.5 million salary. Bush had his best season in coverage last year, while House was a disappointment. Nixon's speed makes him an intriguing prospect. Rolle was promoted from the practice squad late last season, while Dennard joined the practice squad late last season.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- In addition to all the cash the Green Bay Packers have handed out during the early days of free agency, they also had to make good on three significant payments from contracts signed last year.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, linebacker Clay Matthews and safety Morgan Burnett all had roster bonuses due within the first week of the new league year, which began on March 11. The sum of those three bonuses totaled $16 million.

Rodgers was paid a $9.5 million roster bonus on March 11, per the terms of the five-year, $110 million contract extension he signed last April. Two days later, Matthews received a $5 million roster bonus as part of the five-year, $66 million contract he signed last April. And two days after that, on the fifth day of the league year, Burnett was given $1.5 million as part of the four-year, $24.75 million deal he signed last July.

In all three cases, paying the bonuses were givens, especially for franchise-type players like Rodgers and Matthews. But in some cases, players sweat out those early-year roster-bonus deadlines because teams sometimes decide to cut players loose rather than paying them.

While those roster bonuses represented the only guaranteed money in 2014 for that trio, their base salaries are essentially guaranteed as well because there's no chance the Packers would cut any of them. All three have low base salaries for this season with Burnett ($1.15 million) being the highest followed by Matthews ($1 million) and Rodgers ($900,000).

Hyde could minimize safety need

February, 26, 2014
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The Green Bay Packers must be careful not to overestimate their own returning players, something that cost them last season, but their need for a playmaking safety might not be as great as it once appeared.

Hyde
The Packers plan to expand the role promising young defensive back Micah Hyde played last season as a rookie.

In his second year, Hyde could slide to safety in some -- if not all -- of defensive coordinator Dom Capers' packages.

"I mean Micah's to me a multiple position player," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said last week at the NFL scouting combine. "I'd like to see Micah compete to play all three downs on defense, so if there's a personnel group that he has to play safety, yeah that's an option."

Last season, Hyde played mostly as the third cornerback in the Packers' nickel and dime defenses. He was on the field for 39.4 percent of the snaps but rarely played in the base defense. If the Packers want to increase his playing time -- and it sounds like they do -- then playing him at safety in the base package would be a way to do it. That would be similar to the role Charles Woodson played in 2012, his final season with the Packers. Woodson, a former cornerback, played safety in the Packers' base package and then moved up to the slot (or nickel position) in the sub packages.

"He's definitely someone that I think has earned the opportunity to compete to be on the field all three downs," McCarthy said of Hyde.

The Packers like Hyde's nose for the ball and sure-handed tackling ability and from the moment he was drafted as a cornerback, there was reason to wonder whether his long-term position might be safety.

That doesn't mean the Packers won't still address the position in the draft, perhaps even in the first round, after completely ignoring the position last offseason.

Last year, the Packers not only signed strong safety Morgan Burnett to a four-year, $24.75 million contract extension but they also believed that either Jerron McMillian or M.D. Jennings would be suitable in the free safety role. Jennings beat out McMillian for the starting job, although McMillian started early in the season while Burnett was out because of a hamstring injury. By December, the Packers were done with McMillian and released him and also began splitting snaps between the ineffective Jennings and Sean Richardson, who had come off the physically unable to perform list following a neck injury.

The safety prospects met with reporters Sunday at the combine, and not surprisingly many of them said they had met with the Packers or had meetings scheduled with them.

The top-two safeties -- Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville's Calvin Pryor -- give teams different options if they're looking for that position.

"He plays fast," Clinton-Dix said of Pryor. "He's always around the ball. He can hit. He's a physical person, so if I could compare myself, I'd say I'm as quick as him. I can't say I could hit like him. He's a big hitter."

Clinton-Dix was correct about the speed. Both ran identical 4.58 40-yard dashes Tuesday at the combine. That was tied for eighth among the safeties. Florida State's Terrence Brooks, a far less heralded prospect, improved his stock by running the fastest 40 (4.42 seconds) among the safeties who ran Tuesday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Hyde's 40 time last year of 4.56 was considered on the slow side for cornerbacks but would have ranked seventh among the safeties who ran Tuesday.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Green Bay Packers want more production from strong safety Morgan Burnett.

That’s no secret.

But during an interview at his hotel during a break from the NFL scouting combine, Packers coach Mike McCarthy offered a defense – and an honest assessment – of Burnett’s play in 2013 after he signed a four-year, $24.75 million contract last July.

[+] EnlargeBurnett
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsThe Packers will be looking for more aggression from safety Morgan Burnett in 2014.
“You know, I don’t think it’s, ‘Oh my God, he’s a bust,’” McCarthy said. “It’s nothing like that. I think the guy needs to – and I think he will – he’ll be coached to make more impact plays. That’ll be his emphasis next year, and he’s the type of guy that will do it. The guy will go about it. He’s a pro. I wish he’d be more assertive, but that’s not really his personality, either. He’s a soft-spoken young man.”

Burnett’s play was emblematic of the entire Packers’ safety group, which for the first time in at least 50 years failed to intercept at least one pass in a season.

But McCarthy insisted that was the only aspect of Burnett’s game that was lacking.

“Really, the quarterback part of it, the communication, I thought he had a very good year,” McCarthy said. “Productivity and tackling, he had over 100 tackles. How many did he have?”

According to totals kept by the Packers’ coaches, Burnett had 104.

“So that’s a productive year,” McCarthy said. “It’s the play-making ability on the ball. Is he a product of what’s been going on back there? [Playing] Cautious? Whether to run through the ball carrier, receiver, or make a break on the ball?”

Maybe it’s confidence.

McCarthy cited a play in the wild-card playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers in which Burnett was in position to break up the 28-yard touchdown pass to tight end Vernon Davis in the fourth quarter. Burnett broke on the ball but looked like he was trying to swat a fly rather than making an aggressive move toward the ball.

“I look at the San Francisco game, he’s got to make that play,” McCarthy said. “To me, it looked like he didn’t know whether to go hit him or go for the ball.

“That’s not a confident [action],” McCarthy added. “I mean, playmaking, you go get the football.”

That’s something McCarthy and safeties coach Darren Perry discussed at length during their postseason player evaluation meetings.

“I think he’s fully capable of doing it,” McCarthy said. “Morgan’s going to do everything he can. He needs to be more assertive in play-making opportunities. He did not have a good year in that particular area. There was a lot of production otherwise, too, but … what safeties do they talk about? The ones that make the big hit or the ones that make interceptions. And until he starts doing that, they’re not going to talk about him that way. They don’t talk about 100-tackle safeties anymore.”

It might help Burnett if the Packers had a more productive player next to Burnett. M.D. Jennings started every game at free safety, but defensive coordinator Dom Capers also worked in second-year pro Sean Richardson at that position late in the season.

“We need more production next to Morgan,” McCarthy said, “which I think would definitely help him.”

Countdown to combine: Packers' needs

February, 17, 2014
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- As we head toward the NFL scouting combine, which starts Wednesday in Indianapolis, it’s a good time to look at the Green Bay Packers’ greatest needs this offseason and which prospects general manager Ted Thompson might be taking a closer look at during workouts and interviews this week.

Which position is the greatest need could be debated, but there’s no arguing that it’s on the defensive side of the ball. Before things get underway at Lucas Oil Stadium, we’ll look at three areas on defense where the Packers need help.

First up is safety.

Why the Packers need help: The Packers made a $24.75 million investment in strong safety Morgan Burnett last offseason, when they gave him a four-year extension that included an $8.25 million signing bonus. If Burnett is to live up to the rest of that contract, he will need to make far more impact plays than he did in 2013, when he failed to come up with a single interception for the first time in his four-year NFL career.

In fact, Packers safeties didn’t pick off a pass the entire season, the first time that’s happened in Green Bay in more than 50 years.

Here’s how bad their safety play was: Jerron McMillian, who opened the season as one of the starters while Burnett was sidelined with a hamstring injury, was released in early December and hasn’t been picked up by another team. Third-year pro M.D. Jennings, a former undrafted free agent, started every game at free safety but at different points in the season was splitting time with Chris Banjo and Sean Richardson, a pair of undrafted players. Jennings is scheduled to be a restricted free agent next month.

Thompson has drafted only one safety (McMillian in the fourth round in 2012) since he picked Burnett in the third round in 2010. He still has not adequately replaced three-time Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins, whose Packers career ended in Week 2 of the 2011 season because of a neck injury.

There may be only two or three safeties with first-round grades, but the Packers should be in position to take one of them at No. 21.

Safeties the Packers should be watching:

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama: An underclassmen who is known for his strong instincts and cover skills, he will likely be the first safety taken and could be gone before the Packers are on the clock. He looks like a free safety prospect, although he can come down and play in the box against the run. If Thompson likes him enough, perhaps he might be willing to trade up to get him.

Calvin Pryor, Louisville: Another underclassman who looks like he has the speed to cover ground and find the ball in the deep part of the field. Could push Clinton-Dix and overtake him as the top safety in the draft. It’s unlikely both will be gone by the time the Packers are on the clock.

Jimmy Ward, Northern Illinois: At 5-foot-11, he’s shorter than Pryor (6-2) and Clinton-Dix (6-1) and might be better suited for strong safety. However, he has shown the ability to cover with range and match up against bigger tight ends and receivers. Had a strong showing at the Senior Bowl last month to boost his stock.
A roundup of what's happening on the Green Bay Packers' beat.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Packers coach Mike McCarthy completed his coaching staff last Friday, when he announced the hiring of four new coaches and gave different responsibilities to five others previously on his staff.

It brought the total number of assistant coaches working under McCarthy to 21 -- one more than the Packers had last season.

Only three NFL head coaches currently have more assistants than McCarthy does.

Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly and Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll each have 23 assistant coaches -- tops in the NFL. It's interesting that the two biggest staffs both were assembled by recent former college coaches.

Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians is next with 22 assistants. Three other teams -- the Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs -- match the Packers with 21.

In the NFC North, the Packers have two more assistants than the Chicago Bears, three more than the Detroit Lions and four more than the Minnesota Vikings.

The NFL average for assistant coaches is 19.1 per team. The AFC average is 18.9, while the NFC average is 19.3.

The numbers were based on coaching staff directories listed on each team's website.

While there could be a few additions to coaching staffs over the next few weeks, most of the coaching changes have been made, which makes it interesting to note that Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin currently has the smallest staff with just 14 assistants. The Steelers list only one strength and conditioning coach, while many teams have two or three, and only list one special teams coach while many teams have two or three. Other teams will small staffs include the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons, each with 16 assistants.

In case you missed it on ESPN.com: Best of the rest:
  • In the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Mike Vandermause suggested that Seahawks general manager John Schneider, a former Packers scout, might be the best choice to replace Ted Thompson whenever he decides to retire from his GM job.
  • In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tom Silverstein wrote that the Thompson's draft-and-develop philosophy has put the Packers in good salary-cap shape.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- We have a little more clarity in the Morgan Burnett-Tony Gonzalez situation that arose on Thursday night.

Shortly after the Green Bay Packers safety said in an interview that he never insulted Gonzalez or trash talked with the Atlanta Falcons tight end during last season’s game at Lambeau Field, there was speculation that Gonzalez may have meant Jarrett Bush rather than Burnett, who almost never covered Gonzalez during the Dec. 8 game.

Thanks to the magic of Twitter, Bush on Friday provided an answer in a series of tweets back and forth with yours truly.
@RobDemovsky @TonyGonzalez88 it started first series 3rd down Rob lol #funfact

— Jarrett Bush (@Jarrettbush) February 7, 2014

 

@RobDemovsky seriously all competition my man! Doesn't matter who it is! #competition #bigheart
— Jarrett Bush (@Jarrettbush) February 7, 2014

After reviewing the film, it’s easy to see what Bush was talking about.

On third-and-5 in the game's opening series, Bush was lined up in press coverage against Gonzalez, who was split out to the right. A few yards down the field, after Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan completed a pass to Roddy White for a first down, Gonzalez appeared to be frustrated with Bush’s tight coverage by throwing his arms up in the air.

While the television coverage followed the ball, a review of the coaches’ film on NFL Game Rewind showed that Bush and Gonzalez continued to engage in contact after the play.

Bush also explained that in a Tweet:
@RobDemovsky Naw. I told him he was a flopper, tryin to get a call. And some other words that were exchange. That is undisclosed! #GoPackGo

— Jarrett Bush (@Jarrettbush) February 7, 2014

Late in the game, Bush made two key plays. He broke up a fourth-down pass intended for Gonzalez with 1:55 remaining. On the Falcons’ next series, Bush ended the game with an interception with 4 seconds remaining to help preserve the Packers’ 22-21 victory. It was one of Bush’s finest performances of the season.
A roundup of what's happening on the Green Bay Packers beat.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Packers have needs at every level of their defense, starting up front on the line and also including both the linebacker group and the secondary.

But to listen to ESPN Draft Analyst Mel Kiper Jr. on Thursday, it sounds like teams that need help on the defensive line should address it early before attacking their other weaknesses on that side of the ball.

“I don't think the defensive line is something you can wait on,” Kiper said during an hour-long conference call with reporters. “There's not a lot of depth at end or tackle. There's more depth in the secondary that you can get guys down the line, particularly at corner.”

Though the question that prompted that response from Kiper was specifically about the Chicago Bears and was asked by Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune, it was applicable to the Packers even though they pick 21st -- seven spots after the Bears.

The Packers' needs on the defensive line depends partly on whether or not they re-sign any of their own free agents. Their three starters -- Johnny Jolly, Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji -- plus backup C.J. Wilson all are scheduled to be free agents next month.

In another Packers-related item from Kiper's conference call, he was asked about the pressures facing quarterbacks who are high picks in the draft to play right away, and he brought up Aaron Rodgers and how he did not have to play immediately.

“Quarterbacks now are expected to be the guy in Year 1 and Year 2,” Kiper said. “In the late 70s and 80s, it was a 3-5 year process developing quarterbacks. Look at Aaron Rodgers. He sat for [three] years behind Brett Favre, and look what happened. He wasn't ready to play as a rookie. Had he played as a rookie and been forced in there, everybody probably would've been calling him a disappointment and a bust. Who knows how his career would've gone?

“But they handled it properly and they were afforded the opportunity to develop him, and look how it paid off. These other young quarterbacks, Year 1, some of these guys aren't ready. I said that about Blaine Gabbert. I said when he was drafted, he's not ready. He needed a year or two to develop. He wasn't given that, now he may be kicked to the curb.”

In case you missed it on ESPN.com:
  • Safety Morgan Burnett denied saying anything to Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, who in an ESPN The Magazine story claimed that Burnett insulted him and trash talked during the Dec. 8 game at Lambeau Field.
  • Of all people on the Packers' defense, Burnett would likely be the last one to do something like that.
  • On the three-year anniversary of Super Bowl XLV, we looked back at the 53 players who were on the Packers' roster for that game and where they are now.
  • Kiper and Todd McShay unveiled their latest mock drafts. Each had the Packers taking a defensive player.
  • And if you're wondering what Rodgers is up to this week, he's playing in the PGA Tour's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. His professional partner is Madison, Wis., native Jerry Kelly. They were tied for 42nd at 6-under par when play was suspended in the first round. Rodgers was the low quarterback, bettering the scores by Pro-Am teams that included Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Alex Smith.
Best of the rest:
  • In the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Mike Vandermause conducted a wide-ranging interview with Packers president Mark Murphy, who defended the team's decision to raise ticket prices, offered his full support of general manager Ted Thompson and reiterated the fact that the team would like to retire Favre's number before he's eligible for Pro Football Hall of Fame induction in the summer of 2016.
  • In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tyler Dunne wrote that if Thompson continues his practice of drafting players from the University of Iowa as he has done three of the last four years, then Hawkeyes tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz could be next to come to Green Bay.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If you polled players in the Green Bay Packers' locker room and asked who the biggest trash talker is, safety Morgan Burnett likely wouldn't even garner a single vote.

Burnett
That's what made it so surprising that Burnett's name was mentioned in an ESPN The Magazine story about Tony Gonzalez's retirement.

In a finely written piece by Seth Wickersham, there's a part of the story where Gonzalez said he decided to retire and not to come back to the Falcons next season after Burnett yelled “F--- you! You ain't s---” to Gonzalez and none of his Falcons teammates came to his defense.

Those words jump off the page.

What's more, they seemed completely out of character for Burnett, who is about as quiet and non-controversial as you will find in the NFL.

You could argue that if Burnett were more boisterous that he might have performed better last season, when he struggled at times after signing a four-year, $24.75 million contract last summer, but that's not the issue at this moment.

Nevertheless, it was no surprise to hear Burnett emphatically -- or as emphatically as the soft-spoken 25-year-old can be -- deny that he said anything to Gonzalez in the Dec. 8 game against the Falcons at Lambeau Field.

“I'm just a guy trying to make my way in the league and just trying to be the best player that I can be,” Burnett said in a phone interview Thursday night.

Burnett said he has been in Atlanta working out since the season ended. He was part of a safety group that failed to come up with a single interception last season. It's the first time the Packers have not gotten an interception from a safety in at least 50 years, according to the Packers' records.

“Just trying to improve each year,” he said. “I want to improve each year and find ways to get better and show that growth from this year past year going into the next year.”
Each week, I will ask for questions via Twitter with the hashtag #PackersMail and then will deliver the answers over the weekend.
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Packers position outlook: Safeties

January, 31, 2014
Jan 31
12:00
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- This is the final installment of our position-by-position look at what the Green Bay Packers have and what they need.

We can revisit this process before the draft based on what -- if anything -- general manager Ted Thompson does in free agency.

Previously, we’ve looked at quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, tight ends, offensive tackles, centers/guards, defensive linemen, linebackers and cornerbacks.

Next up, safeties:

2014 free agents: M.D. Jennings (restricted free agent).

The good: This is going to be a short description. Sean Richardson returned from a neck injury that was once feared to be career-ending and made some late-season contributions when it became clear the Packers weren't happy with Jennings' play. Otherwise, there wasn’t much else that this group provided, so let’s get right to the next category.

Burnett
The bad: Last summer, Thompson signed Morgan Burnett to a four-year, $24.75 million contract extension that included an $8.25 million signing bonus because he believed Burnett was going to be the defense’s next big playmaker. It didn’t happen. Burnett failed to come up with a single interception -- in fact the entire safety group did not pick off a pass in 2013 -- and also gave up four touchdowns passes and allowed completions 71.4 percent of the time he was targeted, according to ProFootballFocus.com. He also missed 11 tackles, second-most on the team. As much as he struggled, his partner for most of the season, Jennings, might have been worse. He allowed completions 88.9 percent of the time he was targeted and gave up five touchdowns. He also missed nine tackles. Undersized Chris Banjo got some playing time early in the season, but didn't do enough to hold a spot. So did Jerron McMillian, who was cut late in the year.

The money: Burnett is due a roster bonus of $1.5 million in mid-March, and while it’s likely the Packers will pay it and retain him, he will count $4.9 million on next year’s salary cap. Richardson, a undrafted free agent, will make the league minimum for a third-year player ($570,000).

Draft priority: Unless Thompson makes a move in free agency, there’s probably no higher priority in the draft. In his most recent mock draft, Mel Kiper Jr. has the Packers taking Louisville safety Calvin Pryor with the 21st overall pick. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Thompson take more than one safety after ignoring the position in last year's draft.
Each week throughout the offseason, I will ask for questions via Twitter with the hashtag #PackersMail and then will deliver the answers over the weekend.

 
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- In another NFL Nation players survey, we asked those around the league who they respect the most.

This was another category in which Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning led the voting, with 26.8 percent.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was fifth (3.4 percent) in a category in which 78 players received votes.

Respect means different things to different players, which could be why the Packers don't elect season-long captains. Rather, they use three different captains -- one from the offense, one from the defense and one from special teams -- during each regular-season game.

However, league rules require that playoff teams select captains to represent them throughout the postseason. Because of that, we got a look at who some of the most respected players in the Packers' locker room were this past season. The team picked six captains: Rodgers and receiver Jordy Nelson on offense, linebacker A.J. Hawk and safety Morgan Burnett on defense, kicker Mason Crosby and cornerback Jarrett Bush on special teams.

Rodgers has been selected as a playoff captain five times, meaning all five times the Packers have made the playoffs since he became a starter. Bush has been selected four times, while Crosby and Hawk have been picked three teams each. It was the first time for Nelson and Burnett.

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