With the cornerback position in disarray, defensive coordinator Dom Capers put a ton of pressure on the team’s safeties last season. Asking them to help in the passing game more than ever. Throughout the playoffs, the free safeties job was to help overtop on the opposing number one receiver (Dez Bryant, Odell Beckham Jr, Julio Jones). With the injuries on defense, this was an essential gameplan.
Heading into the 2017-18 season, the Packers surely hope their cornerbacks will be able to stay healthy and handle their match up in a one on one situation. Better luck would allow Dom Capers to use his safeties in his preferred role, allowing them to help with the run game, and generally roam the field.
Projected Depth Chart:
- HaHa Clinton Dix: The Packers starting free safety earned his first trip to the Pro-Bowl in his third season in the league. Ironically, the very thing that hurt the team so much, injuries to the secondary, led to his individual triumphs. The Alabama alum had a career season in coverage, recording five interceptions. And yet, due to the team’s change in gameplan, he had a career low in sacks and tackles. It was an odd year to be a Clinton Dix supporter, as he couldn’t play to his talents, but managed to have a career year.For the upcoming season, I would expect he returns to roaming the field, helping clog gaps in the run game, and attacking the opposing quarterback via safety blitzes. Expecting him to jump enough routes to come close to his career high five interceptions will probably leave you disappointed, but overall, he has the chance to have an even bigger impact this season.
- Josh Jones: The rookie impressed during the Rookie OTA’s, earning praise from bloggers, analysts, and the coaching staff alike. Although he’s not the starting free safety, expect him to receive heavy playing time this season. As Mike Spofford writes, “In college, I played some linebacker. I played everywhere,” Jones said. “I kind of knew that whatever team drafted me would have some packages for me.”The rookie can play the same role as Micah Hyde had held down these past few seasons, able to help with the running game, cover large tight ends as well as quick running backs on the flats. Much like the skill driven big man revolution in basketball, defensive players in the NFL are being asked to really expand their skill sets. Tight ends have become a crucial part of many of the better offensive’s gameplans. Giving talents such as Josh Jones a new platform to show their talent.
- Kentrell Brice: The second year safety got a lot of playing time as an undrafted rookie last season, proving to be a nice, young find for the team. He managed to bring ball carriers down trotting through the secondary, tallying 26 total tackles during the regular season.Brice has the ability to make offensive players take an extra second presnap to consider where the heavy hitting safety is setting up on the field. For the 2017-18 season, it’s hard to predict what level of impact to expect from the Louisiana Tech product, but at minimum he’ll be a valued part of the special teams’ unit. Nothing will make a punter returner more annoyed than a knock out hitter coming his way full speed.
- Jermaine Whitehead: Whitehead is another second year, undrafted safety looking to make himself a special teams contributor this season. He only played in two games last season, before he was cut due a special teams mistake. Rob Demovsky of ESPN reported, “Jermaine Whitehead wasn’t the only one who erred on the opening kickoff but a day after the Green Bay Packers gave up a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to start Sunday’s game against the Indianapolis Colts, the rookie safety paid for his mistake with his job.”He’s not the first rookie to make a mistake, no point in holding it against him heading into the season. Without injuries causing havoc, he’ll need to prove that he belongs in the NFL through the same special teams’ abilities that cost him his job last season. Even with a great preseason as a safety, he’ll struggle to stick on the team without redeeming his kick coverage skills.