Next step for Burnett: Big plays

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Morgan Burnett was drafted in 2010 to play alongside Nick Collins.

Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson envisioned that they would form a playmaking pair of safeties on the back end.

Their pairing amounted to merely six games -- four in 2010 before Burnett sustained a season-ending knee injury and two in 2011 before Collins’ career-ending neck injury.

Now, with Burnett entering his fourth NFL season, the Packers are looking to the 24-year-old to become both the playmaker and the leader that Collins was until his career was cut short in its prime. It was at the same time in Collins’ career, year four in 2008, when his production skyrocketed. From 2008-2010, Collins combined for 17 regular-season interceptions and was a Pro Bowl selection in each of those seasons.

With only six interceptions in 36 career regular-season games by Burnett, the Packers had to be encouraged by what they have seen from him so far this training camp. During Wednesday’s practice, Burnett broke hard on a ball that backup quarterback B.J. Coleman floated toward tight end Jermichael Finley and picked it off in stride.

“If you look back on the film from last year, I could’ve easily had four or five of them,” said Burnett, who had two interceptions in 2012. “So basically, I need to capitalize on when the ball hits my hands, bringing it in and focusing on securing it.”

Burnett played every defensive snap last season for the Packers and with a year still remaining on his contract, Thompson earlier this month signed him to a four-year extension that could be worth up $28.2 million and included an $8.25 million signing bonus.

“The sky’s the limit for Morgan,” Packers cornerback Tramon Williams said.

Like Collins did for Burnett, it’s Burnett’s turn to play mentor to the two safeties competing for the job next to him. Third-year pro M.D. Jennings and second-year pro Jerron McMillian have shared work with the number one defense so far in camp.

“At the safety position, that’s a requirement” Burnett said. “You’re the quarterback of the secondary, the quarterback of the defense, so you’ve got to take ownership and be the leader out there and make sure we’re all lined up, all communicating.”