GREEN BAY—After going an entire season without an interception from a safety, the Packers wasted no time addressing that position in the 2014 draft.
Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was Green Bay's selection with the 21st overall pick in the first round on Thursday night, and he instantly upgrades a spot where the Packers need more plays to be made.
"We have to be better," safeties coach Darren Perry said. "Obviously we weren't good enough. That starts right here with me, it starts with our coaching staff. We don't shy away from that.
"We will be better, no question in my mind. I'm looking forward to it."
Clinton-Dix, widely considered one of the top two safeties in this draft, should help. He's the instant frontrunner to start alongside veteran Morgan Burnett, whose two primary partners from last season – Jerron McMillian and M.D. Jennings – are no longer on Green Bay's roster.
There's been talk of trying cornerback Micah Hyde at safety this season, though Perry said the coaches are in the "early stages" of those discussions. Former undrafted free agents Sean Richardson and Chris Banjo will also be in the mix.
"Nothing will be handed to him," Perry said. "He'll have to work, we'll all have to work to get him ready. It's a great challenge and it should be fun."
|Clinton-Dix's Instagram photo from two weeks ago|
Clinton-Dix had some fun on social media a few weeks back, causing quite the stir when he posted a picture of himself on Instagram wearing a Packers T-shirt.
"It kind of blew up," he said. "I got 300, 400 comments.
"Everything happens for a reason. I put that picture up, and here I am a Packer."
An early entry in this draft, Clinton-Dix played more deep safety as a sophomore in 2012, intercepting five passes. He moved closer to the line of scrimmage last season and picked off just two passes, but varying his duties rounded out his game.
"He's got the versatility you look for at the safety position," Perry said. "He can play in the deep zone, he can play at the line of scrimmage. He's tough, he's plenty smart, his football IQ is where you like it to be."
Clinton-Dix said he had to earn Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban's trust to be able to take on multiple roles.
"My junior year he got more comfortable with me," Clinton-Dix said. "He wanted me to make the calls, the checks to the corners. He lined me up anywhere, left or right, put me in the slot. He used me a lot."
Perry and Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers were impressed with Clinton-Dix in their meeting at the scouting combine, when they talked scheme and assignments. On film, they were impressed with his tackling and athletic ability, which outweighed the fact that Clinton-Dix didn't post any off-the-charts testing numbers.
Of course, if he had, he may not have lasted until No. 21, which coincidentally is the jersey number he'll wear in Green Bay.
Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was the Packers' first pick of the 2014 NFL draft. The Alabama star was selected with the No. 21 overall choice.
The other top safety, Louisville's Calvin Pryor, was taken three picks earlier at No. 18 by the Jets. Other defenders that analysts had the Packers eyeing, such as linebackers Ryan Shazier of Ohio State and C.J. Mosley of Alabama, were gone at 15 and 17 to Pittsburgh and Baltimore, respectively.
Clinton-Dix becomes the first safety the Packers have drafted in the first round since 1993, when they took George Teague, also from Alabama. He's also the second Packers pick from the Crimson Tide in as many years, joining running back Eddie Lacy, a second-rounder in 2013.
"He used to give me a spin move every now and then," Clinton-Dix said of Lacy, referring to their practices against one another at Alabama.
Those practices of Saban's are known for being tough and physical, but also for preparing players to play in the NFL.
Perry wouldn't go so far as to say Clinton-Dix is a ready-made pro, but he's well aware of what awaits him.
"If you know anything about Alabama and Nick Saban, he puts a lot of pressure on his secondary guys and his safeties," Perry said. "He's been challenged, mentally and physically.
"Those guys play a lot of variations of coverages back there, so he's been exposed to a lot."
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