Earlier this offseason, the Green Bay Packers released veteran defensive back Charles Woodson. In Woodson’s absence, the Packers finished 7-2 and won the NFC North division title for the second consecutive season. Despite Woodson’s age (37 in October), the Packers are arguably weaker at the safety position without their fearless leader.
Woodson, who was the 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, recorded 39 interceptions, 11.5 sacks, forced 15 fumbles, and scored nine of his 11 career defensive touchdowns in his seven year career with the Pack. The versatile defensive back, who was moved from cornerback to safety in 2012, leaves a Packer defensive secondary which could still use his presence.
Leading tackler Morgan Burnett (123 tackles) returns at safety for the Packers, but outside of him, there isn’t a whole lot at the position. Other returning safeties includes fail mary victim M.D. Jennings, and second-year players Jerron McMillian and Sean Richardson. Competing for roster spots at safety in training camp this July includes journeymen Chaz Powell and David Fulton.
After battling the injury bug as a rookie in 2010, Burnett will have to take on more of a leadership role in the Packers’ secondary, as he’s recorded 230 tackles, three sacks, and five interceptions the past two seasons. It’s nice for fans to know the Packers have a youngster like Burnett who is not afraid to come up and hit an opponent. Without Woodson, Burnett is now the most physical defensive back on Green Bay’s roster.
M.D. Jennings has excellent range in the secondary, but he is best suited to be a “next man up” kind of guy, as he tends to get lost in coverage. Jennings, who still has room for improvement at such a young age (25 in July), could potentially become the heir apparent to former Packer great Nick Collins with his knack for playing in space, but he still has a ways to go.
Jerron McMillian, a second-year player out of Maine, recorded 27 total tackles and one interception in little playing time as a rookie. McMillian was drafted by the Packers because of his fearlessness to attack opposing receivers, but his stocky build and linebacker mentality takes a toll on his pass coverage skills. If the injury bug hits Burnett again this season, the Packers should be in relatively solid shape with McMillian backing him up.
Sean Richardson is the mystery man of the Packers’ group of safeties. Richardson only recorded four tackles as a rookie last season, but it’s apparent that Packers’ head coach Mike McCarthy sees something in Richardson if they didn’t want to let him go so easily. Richardson, who was cornerback Casey Hayward’s college teammate at Vanderbilt, is a big safety (6’2, 216) who could benefit from sitting behind a deep group. After all, Richardson is only 23 years old, so fans shouldn’t expect the Packers to cut ties with him anytime soon.
Overall, the Packers have excellent quality depth in the defensive backfield heading into late-July training camp. The Raiders, unfortunately, will most likely have a Chuck Woodson who is out of his prime. Despite Woodson putting together his worst statistical season since 2005 (38 tackles, one interception in seven games), the Packers’ will miss what Woodson brought to the field, as he brought a combination of energy, physicality, toughness, aggression, and play-making ability to the defense.
In a move which was tough for general manager Ted Thompson to execute, fans need to know that this move was in the organization’s best interest. Time for the youngsters to go out and prove it.
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