- Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Ted Thompson ignored the safety position last year.
He did not make the same mistake again.
A year after the Green Bay Packers general manager watched 22 safeties come off the board in the draft without making a move at the position, Thompson let only one go by before he pounced on Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at No. 21 in Thursday's first round.
In taking Clinton-Dix, the 6-foot-1 3/8 junior entrant, Thompson passed on Washington State's Deone Bucannon (who went 27th to the Arizona Cardinals) and Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward (who went 30th to the San Francisco 49ers).
After watching three of their likely defensive targets -- Pryor and inside linebackers Ryan Shazier and C.J. Mosley -- get snatched up, nerves had to be high in the Packers' draft room. Had Clinton-Dix not been there, perhaps Thompson would have gone in a different direction -- another position or a trade down. Or maybe he would have taken one of the other safeties.
Instead, he did not have to change his strategy or make a reach pick.
He handed defensive coordinator Dom Capers and safeties coach Darren Perry the chance to make up for the ills of last season, when the Packers were the only NFL team that did not get a single interception from the safety position.
"We have to be better," Perry said shortly after the Packers made their pick. "We weren't good enough, and that starts right here with me. That starts with our coaching staff, and we recognize that. We don't shy away from that. It's going to be a great challenge, and we will be better, no question in my mind. I'm looking forward to it."
Clinton-Dix should make Perry's job easier. He combined to intercept seven passes in his final two seasons at Alabama, including five as a sophomore when he played more free safety. As a junior, he played a more versatile role that included some strong safety.
"I think he's a real all-purpose kind of safety," Thompson said. "He's shown an ability to cover down in the slot. He's good in [run] support, a physical player. Also can play well in the back end."
The Packers now can move Morgan Burnett, who played mostly strong safety last year, to free safety if they were so inclined. When the Packers drafted Burnett in the third round of the 2010 draft, they raved about his ball skills, having picked off 14 passes in three seasons at Georgia Tech. Burnett has six interceptions in four NFL seasons, but none of them came last year.
"Morgan, he was kind of forced into that role as a strong safety," Perry said. "But I think Morgan has the ability to play both, both of these guys [can], along with the other guys that we have back there. I think the competition is going to be great."
59mEric D. Williams