GREEN BAY – Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix knows the questions are out there.
Where are the big plays? Where's the Clinton-Dix from last year? The guy who made the Pro Bowl?
He hasn't gone anywhere, Clinton-Dix insisted on Thursday. He's still on the field, week after week, but the chances to make plays haven't been there, and it's not easy to stay patient.
"I've been doing the best I can all year," Clinton-Dix said. "I've been doing everything I can. I haven't missed a ballgame, haven't missed a snap. I've been playing to the best of my ability.
"Things haven't come my way yet, I feel like. I've still got five games left, so I've still got a chance to prove myself. But it's tough man, it's tough."
That comment and those that follow were part of Clinton-Dix's rather impassioned yet respectful defense of his play, which he offered following Thursday's practice in a discussion with a small group of reporters at his locker, after the cameras left.
The 2014 first-round draft pick made his first Pro Bowl a year ago, leading the Packers in interceptions with five. The total ranked second in the league among safeties. He talked after the season about how he left so many more plays out there, that the sky was the limit for him.
Perhaps expectations climbed too high, which can occur naturally through no fault of anyone when a player's game rises so distinctly, as Clinton-Dix's had over his first three seasons. Regardless, 2017 hasn't gone for him as planned. He has just two interceptions, and he's on pace for a career low in total tackles.
He stressed it's not because his play has fallen off, though. He dismissed any rumors of being injured, now or earlier in the season. He also wasn't blaming anything on having to wear the communication helmet for a stretch in Morgan Burnett's absence, before it was given to linebacker Blake Martinez, though he does feel he plays better without it.
While he acknowledged his two missed tackles in the open field against Pittsburgh running back Le'Veon Bell last Sunday night were obvious negatives, it's a lack of high-impact opportunities that have made this a different year.
"I'm a Pro Bowl safety, man. Nobody's throwing the ball my way," he said. "I'm not being targeted, if you look at the game. No one's trying me. They're going away from me."
The coaching staff hasn't had any issues with Clinton-Dix's play, at least not any that have been expessed publicly. Safeties coach Darren Perry has echoed Clinton-Dix's thoughts about a dearth of chances, while Head Coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers have lauded his work as a defensive leader.
The Packers practiced Thursday afertnoon at Clarke Hinkle Field getting ready for Sunday's matchup with Tampa Bay. Photos by Evan Siegle, packers.com.
To Clinton-Dix, it's a double-edged sword. He believes opposing quarterbacks are paying more attention to where he is now, so the ball is coming his way less often.
That's what made the dropped interception near the goal line against Baltimore two weeks ago so frustrating. He picked off another pass later in the game with blanket coverage on running back Danny Woodhead, his first interception since Week 4 vs. Chicago, but he knows he should have had two against the Ravens.
"I can't afford to miss passes like that," he said.
"I get respect from every quarterback in this league. I'm not trying to blow up my head or anything, but that's just what it is. Guys are not throwing my way. They're going to throw the other way. If I'm down in the box, they're going deep. It's hard."
But what Clinton-Dix won't start doing is chasing plays. He was talking recently with his former Alabama teammate and fellow Pro Bowl safety Landon Collins of the two-win New York Giants, and Collins said he's been trying to do too much and looking bad in the process.
Clinton-Dix is willing to let the game come to him, but he also feels it's a different game on his side of the ball without Aaron Rodgers on the other side. Opposing quarterbacks aren't taking many chances, he said, not feeling as much pressure to score in bunches to beat the Rodgers-less Packers.
As he gets ready to don his special cleats this weekend in support of Ha Ha's Hero Foundation, Clinton-Dix is fired up about the Packers' chances to turn things around. Win a couple of games, get Rodgers back, and who knows? And if some plays come his way, all the better.
Clinton-Dix is well aware not everyone will believe his view of things. Some will say he's just making excuses and if he's to be a perennial Pro Bowler, he'll find a way.
Whatever the case, Clinton-Dix's perspective is to keep doing his job. Whether it's to man a deep part of the field, jam the tight end at the line, or support the run, he'll follow through when called upon.
The rest is about patience, even when there's relatively little of it in his voice, because he knows the questions are out there.
"I'm telling you, all season, … I've been on routes. I've been sitting on things," he said. "My level of play, my game, my thought process is off the chain.
"I've just got to wait, man. Maybe the numbers don't look the same because I had five picks last year, and I'm sitting on two now when I could have had three. There's a lot more I still left out there. It's about a little bit of luck and a lot of skills. It'll come."