GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson doesn’t do everything the way his mentor, Ron Wolf, did things when he ran the Packers from 1991 to 2001.
But when it comes to certain things, like height requirements for defensive backs, Thompson rarely wavers from Wolf’s approach. Ever since Wolf used a first-round draft pick on 5-foot-9 cornerback Terrell Buckley, who turned out to be a bust, Wolf vowed never to take another short defensive back.
So what in the world is Chris Banjo, a safety who measured 5-foot-9.6 for scouts at his pro day, doing with the Packers?
For one thing, Banjo was a low-risk acquisition. The Packers signed him to a minimum contract four days into training camp after he was cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars. But now that Banjo has played his way into consideration for a roster spot, the Packers will have to decide whether to allow his height to become a deciding factor.
“There’s a pretty good guy in Pittsburgh that’s had a Hall of Fame career, and he wouldn’t have met our height requirements probably at the safety spot,” Packers safeties coach Darren Perry said this week.
Of course, Perry, a former Steelers safety and assistant coach, was referring to Troy Polamalu.
“He’s only about 5-10, if that,” said Perry, who coached Polamalu for four seasons. “He’s barely 5-10.”
When Polamalu came out of USC in 2003, he was measured at 5-10.1.
Not that Perry was comparing Banjo’s game to Polamalu’s, but his point was that sometimes it’s worth pushing the limits.
“I guess he doesn’t quite meet the Mendoza line for some of the requirements that they’ve had here in terms of defensive backs,” Perry said. “But I think sometimes you’ve got to look beyond that and look at the player’s ability and what he can do on the football field. That’s something that you have to be careful of not getting too caught up in.”
Banjo, a 23-year-old who shares the same alma mater (SMU) as Thompson, is the leading candidate for the fourth -- and final -- safety position on the roster. He is expected to get extended playing time in Thursday’s preseason finale at Kansas City because starting safety Morgan Burnett (hamstring) won’t play.
Although Banjo has been with the Packers for only a month, his determination became apparent early on. The son of immigrants from Nigeria who settled in Houston, Banjo couldn’t crack into the NFL after graduating from SMU in 2012. He had tryouts with the Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers but never landed a contract. It wasn’t until the spring of 2013 that he got an offer from the Jaguars, but he never made it to training camp. They cut him on the eve of the first practice last month.
“It’s something that I’ve been told 'No,' that I wouldn’t be able to do,” Banjo said of making it in the NFL. “Now, I have an opportunity to excel and prove a lot of people wrong, something my family believed that I can do from Day 1.”
In practice this past week, quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed a pass that was thrown over Banjo’s head while he was in coverage. The play again brought into question Banjo’s height. But Perry was quick to note that Banjo was actually playing the nickel cornerback spot -- not his natural safety position -- for the first time when that pass was completed on him.
“I think some of it had to do with the quarterback that was throwing the ball,” Perry said. “We watched that play, and he can’t do anything about his height.”
And that takes us back to Wolf’s point about small defensive backs. They will always have certain limitations. However, Perry believes there are some advantages for a small safety.
“We’re always talking about pad level and so forth,” Perry said. “When you’re 5-9 like he is, you naturally have that, and he’s been able to make some plays.
“You might get some situations where you get against bigger tight ends and they may put the ball in the back-shoulder area where he may be at a little bit of a disadvantage, but for the numbers of times that happens, I don’t think you can really worry about the height being a factor.”