Ha Ha Clinton-Dix Flashes Potential, Inexperience in Packers Preseason Debut

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Ha Ha Clinton-Dix Flashes Potential, Inexperience in Packers Preseason Debut
Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

The debut for Green Bay Packers rookie safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix featured a mix of easily correctable technique mistakes and a few encouraging flashes of physicality and athleticism. 

It was the appropriate mix of potential and inexperience from Green Bay's first-round pick, who was making his first-ever appearance in an NFL preseason game. 

Clinton-Dix played 29 snaps, or the fourth most on the Green Bay defense, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). His 14 pass-coverage snaps and 15 run-defending snaps resulted in three tackles and one pass defensed.

PFF credited Clinton-Dix with one "stop," or a tackle constituting an offensive failure, and one missed tackle. He was targeted in the passing game twice, but neither attempt was completed. 

Below, we look back on Clinton-Dix's debut series by series, targeting the notable plays and learning opportunities:

 

First Series (Three Plays)

Notable Play 

NFL Preseason Live

On his very first snap, Clinton-Dix shows the physicality in his game. The Titans show a heavy look to his side, so he creeps up into the box ahead of the snap.

The run is right at him, but Clinton-Dix takes on the pulling tight end, sheds the block and ends up near the football. He doesn't make the tackle or force the tackle here, but his willingness to pop the tight end and set the edge is notable. As a whole, the Packers safety group lacked this kind of physicality last season. 

 

Learning Opportunity 

None on the first series. On third down, he had blanket coverage of the tight end in the slot. It was also clean coverage (no grabbing or bumping after five yards), which is saying something during this preseason. 

 

Second Series (Six Plays)

Notable Play 

None. The Titans ran six plays, but Clinton-Dix wasn't involved in the outcome of a single one. He played as the single-high deep safety on three of the six plays and as part of a deep safety tandem on the other three, so his ability to contribute against the run was limited. The Titans didn't test him in the passing game, even on 3rd-and-13.  

 

Learning Opportunity 

None. 

 

Third Series (One Play)

Notable Play 

None. The Titans needed just one play to score following Davante Adams' muffed punt. Shonn Greene's run came away from Clinton-Dix, who had moved across the formation to cover up the motioning receiver to the offense's right. 

 

Learning Opportunity 

None. 

 

Fourth Series (Five Plays)

Notable Play

NFL Preseason Live

We will address Clinton-Dix's low point of the game shortly, but credit the rookie for bouncing back from an embarrassing moment and delivering an impact result just one play later.

He plays angry here, running over the tight end on the edge and knifing down the ball-carrier for a gain of just one yard. Big-time play. Can you imagine M.D. Jennings making this tackle?

 

Learning Opportunity 

Two plays need to be cleaned up.

NFL Preseason Live

The first came on second down, when the 170-pound Dexter McCluster put his head down and ran through Clinton-Dix's tackle attempt. He did mostly everything right: broke down, squared his shoulders and drove his body low. But McCluster's contact came before Clinton-Dix could get any impact on his lower body, and he bounced right off.

The rookie needed to initiate the contact and deliver his power, even against one the NFL's smaller running backs.  By the time the regular season rolls around, these tackles need to be made at the second level. 

The second mistake came on third down, when the Packers actually got off the field. In better conditions, and against a starting quarterback, Clinton-Dix's folly likely results in a first down. 

NFL Preseason Live

Tennessee runs a trips formation to the left, with two tight ends and a receiver split off the line. Clinton-Dix is assigned to one of the tight ends. But we see some confusion and hesitation at the snap, and he briefly gets lost in the traffic. This allows Taylor Thompson (No. 84) to drift into the flat wide open. If the pass was on target, the Titans likely move the chains. It sailed high. 

With more experience, these kind of mistakes should become fewer and fewer. 

 

Fifth Series (Three Plays)

Notable Play

None. Clinton-Dix played one snap each as a single-high safety and deep-tandem safety, and one other snap in the box. He didn't factor into the outcome of any play as the Titans went three-and-out. 

 

Learning Opportunity 

None. However, on the 3rd-and-8 play, Clinton-Dix is a little late reacting to the deep out on his half. Charlie Whitehurst still went underneath to the tight end. Without the All-22 tape, it's hard to say with 100 percent certainty that Clinton-Dix wasn't in position, but it appeared there was a window.

 

Sixth Series (11 Plays)

Notable Play

This 11-play series gave us two notable plays. 

NFL Preseason Live

The first comes on the opening snap. Clinton-Dix is playing off-man coverage against the slot receiver. The Titans go play-action but the rookie doesn't bite, sticking with his man through the 15-yard out route.

He then shows off more of his physicality after Whitehurst completes to Jackie Battle in the flat. Clinton-Dix goes right through the block attempt of the receiver and cuts down Battle, a big back, near the sidelines. 

Later, Clinton-Dix saves a possible touchdown when he makes a clean form tackle in the open field to end Whitehurst's circus play. Mike Neal missed a sack, and Sam Barrington blew his tackle attempt. 

 

Learning Opportunity 

His final play can be seen as a notable play and as a learning opportunity. 

NFL Preseason Live

Clinton-Dix lines up in man-to-man coverage near the line of scrimmage, facing the tight end to the right of the formation. Whitehurst's eyes must have sold the rookie on the possibility of a throw underneath, so Clinton-Dix flatted out his backpedal for a brief moment. That bit of aggressiveness allowed Thompson to break open down the seam. 

Whitehurst throws a perfect ball, but watch Clinton-Dix's recovery speed. He makes up the three or four yards he lost in a flash, which gives him an opportunity to chop the football away from Thompson's hands before he can corral it to his body. 

Again, we are only talking about the preseason, and Clinton-Dix was facing second- and third-team offensive players on this play. But this kind of athleticism and playmaking was mostly absent from the Packers safety group in 2013. 

 

There's only so much we can gain from Clinton-Dix's NFL debut.

It does appear obvious that the rookie will be active and physical when he plays near the line of scrimmage, especially against the run. He is wholly unafraid of contact. And despite his miss on McCluster, Clinton-Dix looks like a physical tackler, even in the open field. 

Grade Ha Ha Clinton-Dix's preseason debut Saturday night vs. the Titans.

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The Packers also seem comfortable giving the rookie coverage responsibilities in the slot, where he played a handful of snaps Saturday. 

What we don't know yet is how he will hold up as the single-high safety, a role in which the Packers used him on the majority of snaps against the Titans (of his 29 snaps, I had him down for 11 snaps as the single-high safety). Tennessee's quarterbacks rarely threw down the field. That was partly due to the monsoon-like conditions, and partly because the Titans do not possess great quarterbacks capable of driving the football vertically. Next week in St. Louis could give a better indication on where Clinton-Dix is in terms of playing center field. 

Like all safeties entering the NFL, Clinton-Dix simply needs experience in live-game settings. Safety is a stressed position in the modern game, and it's likely teams will test the rookie more and more as the preseason winds down and the regular season begins. 

However, Clinton-Dix's debut against the Titans was still an encouraging one. He looks like a physical, fearless player with recovery athleticism and positional versatility. The rest will come by playing through and learning from the kind of subtle mistakes he made Saturday night. 

 

Zach Kruse covers the NFC North for Bleacher Report. 

Follow @zachkruse2

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