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Packers' secondary makeup has changed

4/24/2015

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Morgan Burnett turned 26 just three months ago, yet by at least one measure, he's now the senior member of the Green Bay Packers' secondary.

Now that Tramon Williams has taken his 99 career regular-season starts with him to the Cleveland Browns, Burnett takes over as the leader in most games started among Packers' defensive backs (see accompanying chart).

Packers general manager Ted Thompson is likely to add to this group through the draft -- perhaps even with the 30th overall pick, where a cornerback may be the best player available -- but it won't do anything to boost the experience level in the secondary.

Even Davon House, who signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency, would rank fairly high on the experience list with 14 starts in 40 career games had he stuck around Green Bay.

"The guys that were here that left, we're going to miss those guys, just the brotherhood that we had with those men," Burnett said this week at the start of the offseason program. "But that's what the NFL’s about. It's about the next man up making the most of your opportunity, and I'm pretty sure that guys are excited and ready to step up and prove themselves, including myself. I have to step up. We're looking forward to the challenge, and it should be fun."

Burnett is coming off perhaps his best season. With two interceptions and 3.5 sacks (including playoffs), it was certainly the better of his two years since he signed his four-year, $24.75 million extension in July 2013. The Packers also appear to have found a running mate for him at the other safety spot in Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, last year's first-round pick who looks like a long-term starter.

In fact, the safety spot -- with Sean Richardson, who was retained when the Packers matched the Oakland Raiders' $2.55 million restricted free agent offer sheet, Chris Banjo and Micah Hyde -- looks solid.

The questions, however, are at cornerback, where only Sam Shields has significant experience on the outside, and Shields didn't have the quite the season last year the Packers had hoped when they signed him to a four-year, $39 million contract last offseason. The Packers also have Hyde, who split his time between safety and the nickel cornerback position, and Casey Hayward. But like Hyde, Hayward has played almost exclusively inside against slot receivers, so it would be a transition to move into Williams' old spot on the outside.

"It was huge having them," Hyde said of Williams and House. "I think I'd be lying if I said they weren't a huge part of our secondary. T's been here for a long time, doing what he does, making plays. I respect his game 100 percent. House, same way, making plays. Whenever he was on the field, special teams, he was out there doing what he had to do. Blocked for me on punt return. So I respect both their games.

"But at the same time, you can't worry about departures. I think the guys upstairs will get guys in here to fill in those positions. We'll have faith in the coaches and us as teammates that the guys that come in, we'll get them ready."

What's more, Williams was the very definition of dependable. He missed only one game in his eight seasons.

"He's going to be missed," Burnett said. "He was like a big brother to us all, not just with what his play was on the field but just the way he carried himself as a professional off of the field. A lot of guys respected him for that. A lot of guys are looking forward to stepping up, and it’s going to be a fun year."