Morgan Burnett had a decent season in 2011, after missing most of his rookie season in 2010 due to a knee injury. Burnett had 107 total tackles, one sack, three interceptions and two forced fumbles. Burnett also had an interception in the divisional playoff game against the New York Giants.
Still, the secondary was a mess because of the season-ending neck injury to S Nick Collins and the lack of a pass rush by the Green Bay front seven. The Packers ended up finishing 32nd (dead last) in the NFL in pass defense.
There was another reason for the issues in the secondary as well. There were obvious communication problems among the players in the secondary at times. Burnett has to make sure that situation does not arise again in 2012, especially after the Packers decided to release Collins due to his neck injury.
Burnett has to become a leader in the secondary. The defensive backfield of the Packers will see a number of new faces competing for jobs, thanks to the draft and the signing of a couple of undrafted rookies.
The Packers drafted CB Casey Hayward (15 career picks at Vanderbilt) in the second round, and he will push players like CB Sam Shields, who saw his play fall off in 2011. Another player who will push for playing time is CB Davon House, who looks much better this year compared to last year.
"Davon House has done an excellent job in the weight room," said head coach Mike McCarthy. "He's a different young man today than he was last year."
Jarrett Bush will also be given an opportunity to play in the nickel and dime packages of the Packers, but his best attribute is being a top-notch special teams player.
The starting CBs look to be Tramon Williams, who saw his play go down in 2011 after suffering a shoulder injury in Week 1, and veteran Charles Woodson, who had seven interceptions in 2011, including one for a TD. Some expected Woodson to be moved to S this year, after the release of Collins before the NFL draft.
That still hasn't happened, although we are just in the month of June. It might happen eventually.
"You lose a guy like Nick Collins and his big-play ability is now gone," safeties coach Darren Perry said. "Someone has to step up. So we're going to do some different things and mix in some combinations. If that means we have to put Woodson back there some, that's what we want to do."
Woodson knows the task of what he and his defensive backfield compadres have to do in 2012.
"For us in the secondary," Woodson said, "it stings a great deal to be attached to the worst passing defense in the league."
Woodson is correct, but the Packers also led the NFL with 31 interceptions in 2011. So it's not all bad news in the secondary.
Speaking of the safety position, the Packers drafted Jerron McMillian in the fourth round, and signed undrafted rookie Sean Richardson. They recently added rookie Micah Pellerin (who can play CB), and have holdovers like Charlie Peprah, M.D. Jennings and Anthony Levine.
As you can see, there will be a lot of competition in the defensive backfield. Actually, there will be a lot of competition everywhere on the defense this year for the Packers. That's what happens when a defense is ranked 32nd in the NFL in 2011.
The Packers need players like Burnett to step up their game and become leaders. Leaders not only with their play on the field, but also by making sure everyone is in the right position to help create a turnover or make a big play. They need to be sort of a QB on defense.
Morgan Burnett will have that opportunity in 2012.