The last line of defense is also the last position group we'll look at on the defensive side of the ball, and if you're scoring at home, it's also our second to last position group. How quickly time goes by!
At any rate, the safety group is a position in transition. Nick Collins made an enormous play in the Packers' last Super Bowl trip, picking off a Ben Roethlisberger pass and returning it for a touchdown. However, he'd go on to play just two more games for the Packers, ending an All-Pro career far to early thanks to an injury. Needless to say, his untimely departure has left a gaping hole in the secondary, one the Packers are still trying to fill.
Fortunately, there's a few strong, young contenders vying for the right to lead the secondary into the post-Collins era. I'm quite anxious to see what they're capable of doing, so let's meet the contenders.
Morgan Burnett - As far as known quantities on the roster right now, Burnett is probably the best of the safety group. He was the opening day starter in 2010 and recorded 14 tackles and an interception in four games, before an injury cut his season short. He bounced back last year, starting every game and notching three interceptions and a sack to go with 107 tackles (78 solo). If he can build on what he did last year, he'll be a promising defender for years to come. Right now, one of the starting safety spots is his to lose.
M.D. Jennings - Since I know you're wondering, M.D. stands for "Melvin Delanie." Congratulations, you've learned something today! Jennings is another of Ted Thompson's undrafted gems, playing on special teams in 15 games last season as a rookie. With an offseason under his belt, he'll have every opportunity to make some noise in the defensive backfield this year.
Anthony Levine - Levine has been on and off the practice squad for the better part of two years now, but he's never been able to make the active roster. I don't know enough about the safety situation to say if he's got a realistic shot at making it this year, but I do know he'll have to leapfrog several guys with better draft pedigrees and more experience to get to the final 53. I think his best chance is as a special teams contributor, much like M.D. Jennings last year, but apparently there have been some rumblings about him potentially competing for the starting spot as well. It's too early to tell.
Jerron McMillian - A relatively unheralded player from a small school, McMillian could be the most interesting player to watch at the safety position, considering that out of all the players with a realistic shot at contributing in a big way, we know the least about him. Almost all the other contenders at the safety position have previous experience with the team, but as a rookie, McMillian obviously does not. He has the reputation for hitting like "a ton of bricks," according to one profile I read, which would be nice considering that last year's safeties didn't seem to take a lot of interest in hitting anything at all.
Micah Pellerin - Pellerin is a rookie, but he's already on his second NFL team. He was originally signed by the Colts, but was cut earlier this month and subsequently signed by the Packers. I always wonder how the front office finds out about these guys. I think I've heard before that there's some kind of league run transaction information system, but how do you keep track of all the undrafted rookies that are out there? There has to be some crazy intense scouting going on to just keep track of all the available players. Sometimes I wonder if even the league personnel guys are surprised when a team signs a guy even they haven't heard of. It has to happen, right? I mean, except in Green Bay, because Ted Thompson is a cyborg from the future created with the sole purpose of running a football team.
Charlie Peprah - By far the most experienced player in the safety group, Peprah had a career year last year with five interceptions, including a gorgeous return for a score against the Chargers.
I do like some parts of Peprah's game. Unlike Morgan Burnett, Peprah seems willing to stick his nose in the pile. He has a little bit of nasty in him, at least from my perspective. Unfortunately, he does have some weaknesses in coverage, regardless of how good his interception numbers look. Even though he's the presumptive starter across from Burnett, I think the Packers would prefer it if someone was able to bump Peprah out of the starting lineup, if only for the fact that he's probably reached his ceiling already.
Sean Richardson - If you're going to be an unknown, undrafted free agent, it surely can't hurt to be the biggest guy on the roster at your position. The 6'2" Richardson was a three year starter for Vanderbilt, but given his school's relatively anonymous football program, that probably doesn't mean a whole lot. Still, a productive career at an SEC school has to count for something, right? Beyond his stats, though, I can't find out much about him. Even his highlight film leaves me with almost as many questions as answers! (the third play they show is Richardson downing a punt! That'll get the scouts talking!)
Conclusion - I don't know how many safeties the Packers will keep, but four seems like a reasonable number. If we use that as a reference, I think you have to count in Morgan Burnett for sure, and Jerron McMillian seems like a good bet as well, given that he was drafted this year. Beyond that, Charlie Peprah might have an inside track because of his experience. Don't count out M.D. Jennings either, and Anthony Levine could make some noise as well. I guess my point is just about everything at the safety spot is up for grabs. Yeah, that seems about right.