GREEN BAY, Wis. – Coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson say it every offseason: It is not the rookies who will make the difference for the Green Bay Packers but rather the returning players.
With that in mind, over the next couple of weeks, we will take a look at some returning players who need to take their game to another level in 2014.
First up is safety Morgan Burnett.
Why he needs to step up: It's not just about living up to the four-year, $24.75 million contract extension he signed last July. Regardless of the financial commitment the Packers made, they need more plays from their strong safety. When the Packers picked Burnett in the third round of the 2010 draft, they thought they were getting a ball-hawking safety. He picked off six passes and forced four fumbles in his first 36 NFL games, but had no interceptions or forced fumbles in 14 games (including playoffs) last season.
What he has to do: McCarthy and safeties coach Darren Perry have defended Burnett's play by saying he has been steady and assignment-sure, but they know they need more from him. That's why McCarthy said this offseason that Perry's task will be to turn Burnett into a big-play machine. Perhaps having a more qualified partner at free safety -- whether it's second-year pro Micah Hyde or rookie first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix -- will help Burnett.
Outlook: Burnett looked like a prototypical free safety when the Packers drafted him out of Georgia Tech, but the Packers have played Burnett more in the box since the departure of Charles Woodson. Still, Burnett should be in position to make more plays on the ball. Burnett is only 25, so there's reason to think his best football is ahead of him.
Quotable: "I still think Morgan is a heck of a football player," Perry said. "I know our critics may not agree, but again Morgan is going to be fine and he's still a young player, ascending, and we've just got to keep him going."