There’s something about a steady, dependable safety with a nose for the ball and a willingness to tackle who’s been missing from a defense that in the past two weeks has allowed deep-ball touchdowns. In both cases, the common denominator was third-year safety Kentrell Brice as the inside help on the routes.
While Brice apparently won’t be benched, according to coach Mike McCarthy, the Packers did flip-flop him with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix last Sunday after Washington Redskins receiver Paul Richardson Jr. caught a 46-yard touchdown pass. After that, Brice moved in the box and Clinton-Dix played deep.
That’s where Hyde comes in -- in more ways than one.
He returns to Green Bay this Sunday as one of the Buffalo Bills' starting safeties. He left the Packers unwanted after the 2016 season and signed a five-year, $30.5 million contract with the Bills after the Packers didn’t extend an offer of any kind. Hyde made the Pro Bowl in his first season with the Bills.
And Hyde returns at a time when the Packers' play in the deep secondary has been suspect. Three weeks into the season, the Packers rank 23rd in yards allowed and 21st against the pass despite a clear improvement at cornerback with rookies Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson plus the return of veteran Tramon Williams.
Who knows how new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine might have used Hyde if he were still with the Packers? His predecessor, Dom Capers, chose to use Hyde in a variety of roles -- from slot cornerback in the nickel and dime packages to safety and even occasionally as an outside cornerback. In Bills coach Sean McDermott’s defense, Hyde has played safety full time.
“The first couple conversations that I had with my coaches here, they mentioned playing safety and all over, like I did in Green Bay,” Hyde said in a phone interview. “I just stuck with safety. I’m happy with where I’m at now. I love this defense that we’re in. I don’t know if the defense suits me well or not, but I enjoy what we’re doing right now.”
Hyde played a significant role last year in the Bills’ first playoff berth since 1999, ending the longest playoff drought in the NFL.
“He certainly has that type of position flexibility that we’ve noticed,” McDermott said on a conference call with reporters at Lambeau Field. “I had my eye on Micah for a number of years, just watching him on TV when we weren’t playing Green Bay. I had a lot of respect for his versatility. But anytime you can keep a guy at one position, particularly when the system is new, it helps from a learning standpoint.”
This will be his first meeting against his old team, the team that picked him in the fifth round of the 2013 draft. Hyde missed just one game during his four years (which remains the only missed game of his career) with the Packers and recorded eight interceptions and 25 pass breakups while playing multiple positions. As strictly a safety for the Bills, he has five interceptions (all last season) and 14 pass breakups in 19 games.
“He was a great player for us,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “He’s a heady guy, can do a ton of stuff. Look at the time he spent with us -- he played corner for us and made big plays, he played safety and made big plays, returned punts. He’s the kind of guy you love having in the locker room. He’s a consummate professional. His approach is fantastic, the way he is in the locker room, his leadership abilities, and he’s doing that in Buffalo. You hate to see a guy like that go.”
A year later, the Packers also let safety Morgan Burnett walk in free agency, and Burnett signed a three-year, $14.35 million deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The 2017 offseason was a strange time in the Packers’ personnel department. They also let Julius Peppers leave that year, and he went on to another productive season in Carolina. Then-general manager Ted Thompson no longer was on top of his game and relied heavily on salary-cap/finance guy Russ Ball, who has little background in scouting, to make personnel decisions.
When asked how he felt that the Packers didn’t even make him an offer to stay, Hyde said: “I wouldn’t say hurt” but that “it was frustrating, for sure, just because of the hard work and how much that you put in for four years.”
“After the game, I don’t look at my stats and say, ‘This is what Green Bay missed out on,’” He added. “It’s not like that.”
But it might be like that for the Packers if things don’t change.