Darnell Savage working toward 'something extra' in third season

Packers safety intercepted four passes in a five-game span in 2020, and could’ve had more

S Darnell Savage

GREEN BAY – Through the first 23 regular-season games of his NFL career, Packers safety Darnell Savage had just two interceptions.

Then suddenly he caught fire.

Beginning with Thanksgiving weekend last season, Savage picked off four passes over a span of five games. He was suddenly the guy the ball kept finding, or the guy who kept finding the ball.

Which was it? Even Savage isn't sure, but he's not chalking up his hot streak to any "a-ha" moment that altered his game.

"You've got to do your job, at the end of the day, and you can only make the plays that come to you," Savage said after a minicamp practice last week. "I don't think I really changed anything or did anything different. Just more opportunity and more plays that came my way, and I happened to make most of them."

It's interesting that he confessed to not making all of them, because he did let another couple of interception chances slip away, including one against Carolina that might've gone for his first career pick-six.

That's what's so enticing about the 2019 first-round pick's transition to his third NFL season.

His playmaking streak was a big part of a late-season defensive surge last year that saw the Packers allow an average of just 18.4 points per game over the final six games of the regular-season and through their NFC Divisional playoff win – yet Savage still had opportunities to do more.

He's counting on veteran defensive backs coach Jerry Gray, now in his second season on Head Coach Matt LaFleur's staff, to help him make those other chances count. Like the rest of his mates in the defensive backfield, Savage loves playing for Gray and has faith in what the former Pro Bowl player and longtime coach is preaching and teaching.

"I'm always looking for something extra," Savage said. "We're to a point now there (the coaches) have that trust in me and they know that I'm already hard enough on myself.

"I haven't had a year where I've stayed the same. Growth, that's always a revolving door."

New defensive coordinator Joe Barry's scheme could provide the next avenue for progress in Savage's career.

Barry calls his nickel defensive back spot the "star" for its multi-faceted role in the system. It can include attacking in the box to stop the run, covering slot receivers or tight ends, mirroring running backs who leak out into routes, or blitzing from a wide angle.

No one is revealing who the "star" is going to be, but Savage is certainly a candidate, as are corners Jaire Alexander and Chandon Sullivan, plus perhaps others.

Gray told reporters the coaches are looking at four or five options at that spot this spring, with the idea they'll narrow it down come training camp. Barry's scheme also plays two safeties deep a lot, which could mean more centerfield duties for Savage as well.

"Right now we're all just trying to learn," Savage said regarding the scheme and who might fit which role. "We're trying to get our communication right.

"I feel like we've got a lot of guys that are interchangeable and can do a whole bunch of different stuff. As long as we know what we're doing, then I don't think it matters where we are."

What helps is the secondary is a close-knit bunch. Safety Adrian Amos is the most experienced and perhaps underrated player in the group, but what has been touted over the past couple of seasons as a young collection of DBs is growing up fast.

Of the top five corners and top three safeties on the current roster, all but rookie first-round draft pick Eric Stokes is in at least his third season in Green Bay. They know each other, and know each other well.

More important as they transition to Barry's scheme, they're all in their second year with Gray, so they know any questions they have won't linger for long.

"He knows how to reach everybody in their own individual way," Savage said. "It's special to have a guy that's been around that long. He's seen it all, literally. There's nothing we can ask him where he won't have an answer for us, so that's always a plus."

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