GREEN BAY – Just before heading to Orlando to enjoy his first trip to the Pro Bowl this week, Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix wasn't in the mood to reflect on 2016.
His mind was already projecting what 2017 might look like, and it helped provide a slight smile in the aftermath of the Packers' NFC title game loss to the Falcons.
"I'm sorry to tell you this, but I'm not even as close to as good as I'm going to get," Clinton-Dix said. "Going into my fourth year, I'm telling you, it's going to get a little crazy."
Clinton-Dix has never lacked for confidence since the day he arrived in Green Bay as a first-round draft pick out of powerhouse Alabama three years ago.
A starter from the middle of his rookie season on, Clinton-Dix had no trouble learning the Packers' defense and gradually assuming the leadership role that came with the communication responsibilities in the secondary.
Where his game changed in 2016 as he earned his first Pro Bowl nod and a second-team All-Pro selection was in the area of trust – trusting himself, trusting his instincts, trusting his film study.
He and safeties coach Darren Perry both spoke often about not being afraid to make mistakes and about taking some chances – which are more calculated risks than wild hunches when an athletic, dynamic player starts to find his comfort zone in the NFL.
"To be honest, I have to give it to my DB coach," Clinton-Dix said. "Darren Perry showed me this game. He showed me how slow it really is, if I just pay attention to my keys and concepts and formations and stuff like that. I have to give it to 'DP,' man. He let me loose this year. He allowed me to just be me."
Photos of Packers S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, T David Bakhtiari and 2017 Pro Bowl Legend Captain Charles Woodson at 2017 Pro Bowl practice. Photos by AP.
The result was a career-high five interceptions, all in November and December, which led the NFL in that time frame. For the season, he tied for the NFL lead among safeties with former Crimson Tide teammate Landon Collins of the Giants.
Clinton-Dix picked off Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck twice in the first quarter in Week 9, and he got Chicago QB Matt Barkley twice in the third quarter in Week 15. In between, he intercepted Philadelphia rookie Carson Wentz in the Monday night game that started Green Bay's eight-game winning streak to the brink of the Super Bowl.
Deftly reading the game as a centerfielder wasn't all, though. When called upon, Clinton-Dix played in the box against the run with plenty of verve, too. He had four tackles for loss, adding another in the NFC title game in Atlanta, where he also broke up two more passes to give him 13 in that category all told.
His enthusiasm for next season already explains his refusal to be satisfied, though. That's partly innate, but another element Perry pushed in him as well.
"No matter how good of a game I have, he always finds a weakness or a flaw or something I can get better at," Clinton-Dix said. "He never took his foot off the gas with me, and I owe a lot to him."
Clinton-Dix also started watching film differently this year. Or better said, more productively.
When reviewing a game, he'd not only see plays where his instincts were confirmed, he'd see others he could have made if he'd trusted himself even more.
"I'd be like dang, I was thinking that, but I didn't do it, so that's a play I left out there," he said. "A couple (contested) catches I could have caught this year that I didn't make happen.
"They're still out there. I'm sitting on five (interceptions) but I could have been sitting on eight had I caught all the ones that touched my hand. There's more out there."
Therein lies the confidence that prompts him to say he's "not even close" to the top of his game, how his fourth season could get "a little crazy."
He's going to trust that instinct, too.
"Since a kid, I've been a top safety coming out of high school, a top safety coming out of college, what's next?" he said. "I just challenge myself to be compared to one of the best in the league, to an Earl (Thomas) or an Eric Berry, and all the great safeties around the league.
"I just try to compete, and I'm just trying to be the best."