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Countdown to Camp: Competition will drive defensive backs

Packers hope changes will help the secondary turn a corner in 2018


This is the seventh in a series of stories examining the Packers' roster, position by position, heading into training camp. The series continues with the defensive backs.

GREEN BAY – One room. One goal. One unified message.

That was the driving force behind Head Coach Mike McCarthy and new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine installing longtime assistant Joe Whitt Jr. as the Packers' defensive pass-game coordinator this offseason.

Looking to strengthen communication in the secondary, Green Bay pulled all of its defensive backs into the same room with Whitt and new secondary coach Jason Simmons setting the vision for the pass defense.

The Packers restocked the personnel in the secondary this offseason, beginning with the re-signing of cornerback Tramon Williams. Coming off a resurgent 2017 season with the Arizona Cardinals, the 12th-year veteran brings experience, production (32 career interceptions) and versatility to the defense.

The move reunites the former Pro Bowler with both Whitt, his position coach in Green Bay from 2009-14, and Pettine, who was Williams' head coach in Cleveland from 2015-16.

The Packers also used their first two draft picks on cornerbacks, selecting Louisville's Jaire Alexander in the first round (18th overall) and Iowa's Josh Jackson in the second (45th).

Alexander, the second cornerback to be drafted this year, had seven interceptions in 31 college games and ran a 4.38-second time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Jackson only started one full season at Iowa, but led the country with 26 passes defensed and eight interceptions before declaring for the NFL Draft.

Both flashed playmaking potential in the offseason program, with quarterback Aaron Rodgers saying he's eager to test the two rookies once training camp begins.

Green Bay also has seven other returning cornerbacks who have spent time on the 53-man roster, including Davon House and former second-round picks Kevin King and Quinten Rollins.

As a rookie last year, King started five of the nine games he played before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery. He returned in time for the offseason program, though he was limited in team drills. Rollins also returned after tearing his Achilles tendon against Minnesota in Week 6.

Also competing for roles are special-teams stalwart Demetri Goodson and former undrafted free agents Lenzy Pipkins, Josh Hawkins, Donatello Brown and Herb Waters, who was making progress in his transition from receiver before sustaining a season-ending shoulder injury last year in camp.

On the back end, the Packers return safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who had 79 tackles and three interceptions in 16 starts last season. He believes the switch to Pettine's defense will free him up to make the plays that made Clinton-Dix an All-Pro in 2016.

The Packers opted to keep their candidates for the other safety post in-house following Morgan Burnett's move to Pittsburgh, with Kentrell Brice and 2017 second-round pick Josh Jones in prime position to capitalize on the opportunity.

Jones played more than 700 defensive snaps as a rookie and believes he benefited from focusing strictly on safety this offseason. Brice had carved out a niche as the deep safety in the dime package when Burnett moved into the box last season.

The former undrafted free agent netted his first career interception before landing on injured reserve in November with an ankle injury. After undergoing surgery, the hard-hitting Brice was back on the field this spring and garnered praise from McCarthy for his work at the end of the offseason program.

Third-year safety Marwin Evans played sparingly on defense last year, but led Green Bay in tackles on special teams (14), while another returning veteran, Jermaine Whitehead, saw action on 120 defensive snaps mostly as a slot cornerback.

The Packers hope the organizational changes at the top and infusion of personnel options will help the secondary turn a corner in 2018.

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