Hyde could minimize safety need

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Green Bay Packers must be careful not to overestimate their own returning players, something that cost them last season, but their need for a playmaking safety might not be as great as it once appeared.

The Packers plan to expand the role promising young defensive back Micah Hyde played last season as a rookie.

In his second year, Hyde could slide to safety in some -- if not all -- of defensive coordinator Dom Capers' packages.

"I mean Micah's to me a multiple position player," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said last week at the NFL scouting combine. "I'd like to see Micah compete to play all three downs on defense, so if there's a personnel group that he has to play safety, yeah that's an option."

Last season, Hyde played mostly as the third cornerback in the Packers' nickel and dime defenses. He was on the field for 39.4 percent of the snaps but rarely played in the base defense. If the Packers want to increase his playing time -- and it sounds like they do -- then playing him at safety in the base package would be a way to do it. That would be similar to the role Charles Woodson played in 2012, his final season with the Packers. Woodson, a former cornerback, played safety in the Packers' base package and then moved up to the slot (or nickel position) in the sub packages.

"He's definitely someone that I think has earned the opportunity to compete to be on the field all three downs," McCarthy said of Hyde.

The Packers like Hyde's nose for the ball and sure-handed tackling ability and from the moment he was drafted as a cornerback, there was reason to wonder whether his long-term position might be safety.

That doesn't mean the Packers won't still address the position in the draft, perhaps even in the first round, after completely ignoring the position last offseason.

Last year, the Packers not only signed strong safety Morgan Burnett to a four-year, $24.75 million contract extension but they also believed that either Jerron McMillian or M.D. Jennings would be suitable in the free safety role. Jennings beat out McMillian for the starting job, although McMillian started early in the season while Burnett was out because of a hamstring injury. By December, the Packers were done with McMillian and released him and also began splitting snaps between the ineffective Jennings and Sean Richardson, who had come off the physically unable to perform list following a neck injury.

The safety prospects met with reporters Sunday at the combine, and not surprisingly many of them said they had met with the Packers or had meetings scheduled with them.

The top-two safeties -- Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville's Calvin Pryor -- give teams different options if they're looking for that position.

"He plays fast," Clinton-Dix said of Pryor. "He's always around the ball. He can hit. He's a physical person, so if I could compare myself, I'd say I'm as quick as him. I can't say I could hit like him. He's a big hitter."

Clinton-Dix was correct about the speed. Both ran identical 4.58 40-yard dashes Tuesday at the combine. That was tied for eighth among the safeties. Florida State's Terrence Brooks, a far less heralded prospect, improved his stock by running the fastest 40 (4.42 seconds) among the safeties who ran Tuesday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Hyde's 40 time last year of 4.56 was considered on the slow side for cornerbacks but would have ranked seventh among the safeties who ran Tuesday.