Mike Pettine has a new task on top of fixing one of the worst passing defenses in the NFL. With Morgan Burnett traveling to Pittsburgh to sign with the Steelers on Tuesday, Pettine has to find a new player to lead on-field communication. Burnett, who mostly lined up as a box safety, was in charge of relaying messages from his coaches to the rest of the team. The Packers selected Josh Jones in the second round of the 2017 draft thinking he could someday take over for Burnett at strong safety. Jones had an up and down rookie season as he was frequently caught out of position when asked to play zone coverage. Whether Jones will be ready to take over Burnett’s duties as a do it all safety should be answered in training camp.
Being the quarterback of the defense is no easy feat. Burnett’s versatility allowed him to see the game from numerous angles as he sometimes lined up as a slot corner or extra linebacker. Whenever he was injured, the defense suffered from communication issues which led to regular breakdowns in coverage. Burnett may have been an average playmaker, but his role in Green Bay for the last eight years was not only that of just a player. He was a coach.
The Packers won’t find a replacement to quarterback the defense in free agency, so it will have to be someone already on the roster. Blake Martinez and HaHa Clinton-Dix are the first two names that come to mind.
Martinez is entering his third season and was tied for the league lead in tackles in 2017. His performance earned him a roster bonus of $384,390.54, the most on the team.
Clinton-Dix will likely be the front-runner given his experience and accolades. Clinton-Dix was a Pro-Bowler in 2016 and was also named to the Second-Team All-Pro.
The former Alabama standout has 11 career interceptions in four seasons. Green Bay picked up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract before the 2017 season.
2017 was not a great year for Clinton-Dix but he still has the support of his head coach. At the end of the season, Clinton-Dix expressed his frustrations with the defense believing there was a lack of chemistry.
“He was emotional in our conversation, disappointed in the way he played,” McCarthy said. “He wants to win. He wants to be a bigger part of the leadership group in the locker room. There’s a pretty common theme amongst our team that the leadership needs to be better in the locker room.”
Regardless of who is asked to get the defense in position pre-snap, Martinez and Clinton-Dix should take in upon themselves to be vocal leaders on and off the field.
___________________Brandon Carwile was a Cheesehead at birth. His dad grew up attending games at Lambeau and passed on the legacy. He has covered the Packers for over five years and currently works with packerstalk.com. Find him on twitter at @PackerScribe.