GREEN BAY — As a rookie, Micah Hyde used to dread walking into the film room with Packers cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt to review the cutups from the team’s most recent practice.
The lights dimmed, Whitt flipped on the film and quickly the critiques started to fly. Whitt addressed every cornerback in the room, but he seemed to always get caught up on Hyde.
At least, that’s how it felt at the time.
Hyde had a little more on his plate than many of his contemporaries, learning all four cornerback positions during his rookie season, but that didn’t matter to Whitt.
The coach didn’t grade on a curve. He wasn’t patting anyone on the back for being “close enough” in his assignment. Whitt demanded and expected perfection.
“I can remember being in meetings and it was like, ‘Dude, shut up,’” said Hyde, throwing his head back in playful exasperation.
“Those other guys in there were just learning corner, but he had me learning corner, nickel and dime at the same time. I’m walking out of practices with a few ME’s (mental errors) and he’s getting on me in the film and I’m like, ‘Dude, if these guys had the same positions I did, they’d have more than I would.’”
Looking back, Hyde is grateful for the grilling. Now in his fourth NFL season, the utility player of the Packers’ secondary views that first season as a necessary trial by fire in his development.
As more was expected of him, Hyde began to draw more from those early experiences, particularly when he began learning the safety position from Darren Perry in 2014.
Over the years, Hyde’s versatility has allowed the Packers to deploy him everywhere on defense, embodying the flexibility Green Bay wants from all its defensive backs.
“He’s rare. He’s very smart,” Whitt said. “With his knowledge of the defense and the skill set to go along with that, that makes him a hybrid-type player who really helps the defense, and a guy who as much as possible we have to have on the field because in my opinion, he’s one of our 11 best players. He needs to be out there because when he’s out there he’s a contributing factor.”
Head Coach Mike McCarthy acknowledges that Hyde’s broad job description occasionally has worked against him since he hasn’t been able to focus on one set position.
That’s why Hyde’s taken a majority of his reps on the back end this year rather than taking snaps in the slot of the nickel and dime defense like in previous years.
Safety has allowed Hyde to gain a greater perspective of the entire defense. Whereas cornerbacks are typically locked into one side of the field, safeties need to understand every defender’s assignment at any given time.
The strides he’s made at the position were evident in Friday night’s preseason opener against Cleveland when he made an unexpected spot start in place of an injured Morgan Burnett.
Despite the short notice, Hyde made the defensive play of the game to end the Browns’ first offensive series, intercepting a pass intended for tight end Gary Barnidge in the end zone.
“Micah stepped in and did an outstanding job for us,” Perry said. “Micah is a very versatile guy. He brings a lot of experience. He’s smart. He understands football. When he’s out there on the field, there’s really no worries. He’s like a starter for us.”
Fans came to watch the Packers practice at Ray Nitschke Field on Monday. Photos by Evan Siegle, Ryan Hartwig and Matt Becker, packers.com.
Hyde jokes that he often was scrawnier than many of his peers growing up in Fostoria, Ohio, but confidence never was an issue for him.
Hyde could do it all regardless of the sport. It didn’t matter whether he was playing basketball, baseball, soccer or football, he was going to do whatever was asked of him.
Maybe that’s why his current situation suits him. Yes, he’d love to be on the field on every down, but Hyde is comfortable filling whatever role the coaches throw at him.
If it gets the Packers closer to the Super Bowl, count him in.
“Some people say it’s a curse because I do a lot of different stuff and I’m not that one position-type guy whether it’s starting or not,” Hyde said. “But at the end of the day, coaches have faith in me to go out there and whatever position they throw me in, I’m capable of making plays and I think my teammates enjoy that. That’s something I try to bring to the table. I look at it as a blessing.”
In his first three seasons, the Packers consistently have been able to find a spot on the field for Hyde’s skill set. He has 169 tackles, 15 passes defensed and five interceptions in 47 games played and more than 2,000 defensive snaps.
He also serves as the Packers’ primary punt returner, averaging 10.4 yards in his 65 regular-season attempts with three punts returned for a touchdown.
Reflecting on his first season with Whitt, Hyde realizes what his position coach was trying to do for him – he was developing Hyde’s greatest attribute.
“Looking back, it’s the best thing for me, learning those positions right away,” Hyde said. “Now whatever position I’m thrown into, I can operate with the best of my abilities.”