The Green Bay Packers are returning to the practice field on Monday, this time in full pads for the first time, and will continue to regularly rotate players at the safety position with playing time and roster spots up for grabs.
"“It’s going to be one of those things that’s pretty fluid,” said Matt LaFleur on Saturday, “in regards to whose running with the ones, whose running with the twos. We are going to rotate those guys quite a bit.”"
Although there are still questions to be answered within this position group, it does appear that the depth chart is beginning to take shape. Since offseason programs, Darnell Savage and Rudy Ford have been the primary starters at the position.
After Savage, Ford is the next most experienced player in the Joe Barry defense at this position. He provided stability last season when called upon, often positioned well, which led to turnover opportunities, and someone who is a willing run defender.
Savage’s 2022 season was plagued by missed tackles – something that has given him fits his entire career – and far too many coverage breakdowns and miscommunications that resulted in big plays for the offense. Eventually, he was benched at one point as well, but Savage has had a very strong start to the offseason and summer programs.
"“Obviously, the guy that’s got the most snaps out there is (Darnell) Savage,” said LaFleur, “and he’s had a pretty strong camp, but I thought when he came back over the course of OTAs, he had really grown, and we are hoping we see that continued growth when we get the pads come on. I think that’s when things start to clearly define themselves, and the separation starts to happen.”"
When Tarvarius Moore has been healthy, he has seen the majority of his snaps take place with the second-team defense alongside of Jonathan Owens. Dallin Leavitt, meanwhile, filled in for Moore during the first training camp practice while he was sidelined but figures to once again be a primary special teams player and strong locker room presence.
The last time the Packers rostered more than five safeties on their initial 53-man was in 2016, so chances are, they aren’t going to be keeping six. And if that’s the case, the five players just mentioned may very well make up the Packers’ safety room at the start of the season.
Rookie seventh-round pick Anthony Johnson has consistently been working with the third-team defense since offseason programs. Although he is an exciting young player who can fill an Adrian Amos-like role as someone who can play in the box and help in the run, it’s important to remember that he is only in his second season playing safety. So not only is he navigating the jump to the NFL, but he’s still relatively new to his current role.
2023 is going to be a development season for him; the question is whether that takes place on the 53-man roster, like Caleb Jones and Jonathan Ford did in 2022, or on the practice squad. While a lot can change, based on what we’ve seen so far, it very well could be the latter.
One other player to not forget about at safety is Innis Gaines. He has not seen snaps in the traditional deep safety role like the others, but he has often been working with the second-team defense as a slot defender. I go into more detail here, but he is someone who could carve out a role on this team as a backup nickel option and special teams contributor. Gaines has been spending time with the cornerbacks during individual drills in this first week of training camp practices.
From the outside looking in, with so many unknowns, all eyes are on what unit each of these players are lining up with. But for LaFleur, for the time being anyways, he wants his players focused on the process that goes into each play, along with trying to get better each day, and not the depth chart, knowing that a lot can change once the pads come on and preseason games begin.
"“First of all, there is nothing set in stone,” said LaFleur on Saturday. “We’ve had two real practices, no pads, so we are going to be moving guys all over the place. Just because somebody is running with the ones doesn’t mean that’s necessarily the case, and vice versa if you’re running with the twos, I don’t want the guys thinking about the depth chart at this point.“The sole focus each and every time you go out there is to try to get better each and every day in everything they do. In order to do that, you have to give max effort, you got to be deliberate about what you’re doing. Know the ins and outs, the details, the why of everything we are asking these guys to do.”"