That’s no secret.
But during an interview at his hotel during a break from the NFL scouting combine, Packers coach Mike McCarthy offered a defense – and an honest assessment – of Burnett’s play in 2013 after he signed a four-year, $24.75 million contract last July.
“You know, I don’t think it’s, ‘Oh my God, he’s a bust,’” McCarthy said. “It’s nothing like that. I think the guy needs to – and I think he will – he’ll be coached to make more impact plays. That’ll be his emphasis next year, and he’s the type of guy that will do it. The guy will go about it. He’s a pro. I wish he’d be more assertive, but that’s not really his personality, either. He’s a soft-spoken young man.”
Burnett’s play was emblematic of the entire Packers’ safety group, which for the first time in at least 50 years failed to intercept at least one pass in a season.
But McCarthy insisted that was the only aspect of Burnett’s game that was lacking.
“Really, the quarterback part of it, the communication, I thought he had a very good year,” McCarthy said. “Productivity and tackling, he had over 100 tackles. How many did he have?”
According to totals kept by the Packers’ coaches, Burnett had 104.
“So that’s a productive year,” McCarthy said. “It’s the play-making ability on the ball. Is he a product of what’s been going on back there? [Playing] Cautious? Whether to run through the ball carrier, receiver, or make a break on the ball?”
Maybe it’s confidence.
McCarthy cited a play in the wild-card playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers in which Burnett was in position to break up the 28-yard touchdown pass to tight end Vernon Davis in the fourth quarter. Burnett broke on the ball but looked like he was trying to swat a fly rather than making an aggressive move toward the ball.
“I look at the San Francisco game, he’s got to make that play,” McCarthy said. “To me, it looked like he didn’t know whether to go hit him or go for the ball.
“That’s not a confident [action],” McCarthy added. “I mean, playmaking, you go get the football.”
That’s something McCarthy and safeties coach Darren Perry discussed at length during their postseason player evaluation meetings.
“I think he’s fully capable of doing it,” McCarthy said. “Morgan’s going to do everything he can. He needs to be more assertive in play-making opportunities. He did not have a good year in that particular area. There was a lot of production otherwise, too, but … what safeties do they talk about? The ones that make the big hit or the ones that make interceptions. And until he starts doing that, they’re not going to talk about him that way. They don’t talk about 100-tackle safeties anymore.”
It might help Burnett if the Packers had a more productive player next to Burnett. M.D. Jennings started every game at free safety, but defensive coordinator Dom Capers also worked in second-year pro Sean Richardson at that position late in the season.
“We need more production next to Morgan,” McCarthy said, “which I think would definitely help him.”