GREEN BAY – Throw Safety A on a projector with 79 tackles and three interceptions in 16 regular-season starts, and the numbers anonymously tell the story of a fine season.
Fine isn’t good enough for Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, though. The fifth-year safety expects to be better than fine. He wants to be great. He wants to play at a perennial All-Pro level.
More than anything, however, Clinton-Dix wants to be a contributing factor to a defense that will help the Packers win championships. After getting a small taste of Mike Pettine’s scheme this offseason, Clinton-Dix believes the Packers’ new defensive coordinator is the man to help get him to that level.
“I’ll give you two words – likable and learnable,” said Clinton-Dix when asked to describe Pettine’s playbook on Tuesday at the start of offseason workouts.
“I’m excited about this playbook and I look forward to learning as much as I can and maximizing my opportunity.”
Last season didn’t turn out as planned for Clinton-Dix or really anyone on the Packers’ defense. A unit brimming with hope in September was left crawling to the December finish line due to injuries, inconsistency and lapses in communication.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy determined change was needed at the top and installed Pettine as defensive coordinator. Prior to serving as the head coach of the Cleveland Browns for two years, Pettine fashioned five consecutive top 10 defenses with the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills from 2009-13.
Energy often is a term used to describe Pettine and it’s what immediately stood out to Clinton-Dix after meeting his new coordinator, in addition to a digestible playbook that aims to look more complicated to opposing offenses than it is for defenders to implement.
However, the biggest key to Pettine’s success is a relentless devotion to keeping those around him accountable. Muhammad Wilkerson praised that approach during Pettine’s tenure in New York and it’s a mentality that sold defensive pass-game coordinator Joe Whitt when joining Pettine’s staff in January.
With Pettine unwilling to take “any mess,” Clinton-Dix is convinced McCarthy found the right guy to turn around Green Bay’s defense, which finished last season 22nd in total defense and 31st in red-zone scoring.
“Everybody has been held accountable,” Clinton-Dix said. “There’s not going to be any loose strings whether you’re a 10-year vet or a rookie. Guys are going to be held accountable and I’m excited about that.”
Clinton-Dix understands Pettine is only one part of the solution. A renewed dedication to communication on the back end also should benefit the whole, with Whitt bringing the cornerbacks and safeties together under one roof.
The Packers were back in Green Bay Tuesday to begin offseason workouts. Photos by Evan Siegle, packers.com.
In the end, however, it’s on the players to rise to the occasion in 2018. Although the ball didn’t always come his way last season, Clinton-Dix has pinpointed areas of his own game he needs to detail to return to the All-Pro level played during a five-interception season in 2016.
“Last year we had to do what was best for the team,” Clinton-Dix said. “I wasn’t involved in a lot, but last year was last year. I didn’t meet the standards I set for myself personally.
“With a guy like me with the high expectations I set for myself, I expect more. I have to work on a lot of things to get better at and I’m excited about it.”
Still a week away from the NFL Draft, the secondary already is poised to look significantly different than it did in 2017. Morgan Burnett is in Pittsburgh. Damarious Randall was traded to Cleveland. Tramon Williams is back after spending three years away from Green Bay.
Wearing Burnett’s flip-flops around the building Tuesday, Clinton-Dix admitted it was emotional not seeing his friend during the start of the offseason program Tuesday, but he hopes to fill leadership void Burnett’s departure created.
A portrait of accountability during his eight seasons with the Packers, Burnett knew the defense better than anyone and never wavered in his commitment to helping those around him.
“Morgan was a leader I’m definitely going to miss in this locker room, but everything I learned from him I think I’m ready to step into his place and be that guy,” Clinton-Dix said.
The Packers’ safety room has a unique blend of youth and experience with no one older than 25. Yet, Clinton-Dix, 2017 second-round pick Josh Jones, Kentrell Brice, Marwin Evans and Jermaine Whitehead have a combined 10 NFL seasons among them.
Clinton-Dix likes what he’s seen from Jones, who was thrown into the fire at multiple positions during his rookie season. Starting seven games and playing 730 defensive snaps, the 6-foot-1, 220-pound safety notched 71 tackles, two sacks and a game-sealing interception against Cleveland in Week 14.
Through the ups and the downs, a short memory is critical for success in the secondary. That message has been passed on to the defense from the top down this offseason. Last year was last year. All efforts are centered on a turnaround in 2018.
“I think they were definitely pointed out in the team meeting we had this morning by Coach Mike,” said Clinton-Dix. “We’re excited to move forward. Like Coach said, we kicked the rear-view mirror off. We’re looking straight ahead from now on.”