GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Morgan Burnett wouldn’t say what the position is called -- or even what defensive package the Green Bay Packers were in -- but anyone who saw what he did Thursday at practice could tell he wasn’t playing his traditional strong safety spot.
He looked more like a linebacker.
“I’m still a safety,” Burnett insisted after Thursday’s practice.
He offered little else about what appears to be a new role in either the nickel or dime defense, depending on what defensive coordinator Dom Capers calls it.
“I feel where you’re coming from,” Burnett said. “But I can’t give anything away.”
The only true inside linebacker on the field in that package was rookie Blake Martinez, who not only appears to be on track for a starting job but as the third-down backer as well. But there was Burnett in the same vicinity, near where the second inside linebacker would play if Capers had called his nickel defense.
“It’s still early; nobody’s position is set right now,” Burnett said. “I just think we’re at the point now where everyone in our safety room is versatile and can move around and play different spots. It’s all about learning each other’s role and being interchangeable and understanding each other’s position and thought process. By doing that, you get moved around a little bit, but it’s up to the coaches to where things are going to be set. Right now, I’m just doing what’s asked of me.”
The 6-foot-1, 209-pound Burnett might seem a little small to play like a linebacker, but Bucannon is the same height and only a couple of pounds heavier.
“We’re two different players; we’re in two different schemes,” Burnett said. “I don’t know the Arizona defensive scheme. I know here, just as a safety you’ve got to be interchangeable, you’ve got to be able to play deep, you’ve got to be able to play in the box. Sometimes you’ve got to go out against the No. 2 receiver and play man to man. Just moving around in these practices gives you the opportunity to work on your technique because you never know during the course of a game what type of position you’re going to be put in.”
Entering his seventh NFL season, Burnett has as much experience as anyone in the Packers’ secondary and should know the defense inside and out regardless of where he plays.
Burnett wouldn’t be the first safety the Packers have experimented with in a linebacker-type position. They discussed a similar role last season for Sean Richardson before a neck injury ended his season and perhaps his career.
“I think it’s a primary position in the National Football League,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said without specifically being asked about Burnett in that role. “I talk about the importance of attacking the middle of the field, but also defending it. Obviously you have to have as many hybrid, to use the term, players that are big enough to play run defense in there, but also are athletic enough to handle the players that are attacking the middle of the field. I think it’s a position that you can’t have enough of.”