GREEN BAY – He never envisioned it, but now it seems like the perfect fit.
Raven Greene said he was “purely a free safety” in college at James Madison. This idea of playing closer to the line of scrimmage as a hybrid/dime linebacker, which he’s been doing regularly in his second year with the Packers, was a foreign concept.
Yet now, less than two weeks before the 2019 season opener, it’s a role he’s all but assumed and solidified in coordinator Mike Pettine’s defense. Lining up next to Blake Martinez on third downs, Greene might have to plug a hole against the run, attack the quarterback, or pick up a slot receiver, tight end or running back in coverage.
The possibilities are numerous, so the job isn’t for just anyone. But Greene has taken a liking to it despite the lack of familiarity at first, and the organization cast a strong vote of confidence in him with the release Sunday of 2017 second-round draft pick Josh Jones, who had taken his share of reps in the same spot.
“I didn’t go down into the box much at all,” Greene said of his college career, in which he set a school record with 14 interceptions. “I never rushed once. I had no blitzes or anything like that, so this is all new to me, but I’m starting to see it’s my skill-set.
“It’s kind of funny. I reached out to my college coaches and said, ‘Maybe you should have put a couple blitzes in back then.’”
If they had, perhaps Greene wouldn’t have gone undrafted last year and been forced to make the team as a rookie the hard way. But he has no regrets about his path.
He was on an impressive trajectory in 2018, when he posted five tackles and a forced fumble on special teams and was starting to get more game snaps at safety before a nasty ankle injury in Week 11 at Seattle ended his season prematurely.
It was a long rehab road back, but Greene rebuilt his upper body with noticeably more size while also getting his injured leg back to full strength. Then he came into the offseason program with an open mind as far as where Pettine thought he fit best, and Head Coach Matt LaFleur said he’s doing a “tremendous job” in the hybrid role.
Greene is grateful for not only the opportunity but also the knowledge of the scheme he’s gained by learning both the deep safety and dime linebacker positions together.
“Just being able to get reps at either spot gives you a better holistic look at the defense from the top down,” he said. “It’s invaluable. You can’t really put a price on that. I’m just glad I’m able to do it. I can’t thank them enough.”
The injury last November was a tough break for a young player trying to make his way, but without it, Greene’s not sure he’d be the same player he is now – 10 pounds bigger and stronger, and with the right physical and mental makeup to do whatever he’s asked.
“It was a letdown but I feel like it was a lesson that I needed, to be honest with you,” he said. “I learned a lot from that experience as far as being able to know what I need to do as a professional, on and off the field, to keep myself available. Durability and dependability are what allow people to stick around this game. I’m learning.”
For as often as Pettine employs a dime package, and with injuries creating some uncertainty at the traditional inside linebacker spot next to Martinez, Greene could be tapped for a lot of work from the get-go in 2019.
The Packers have yet to announce any timetable for the possible return of Oren Burks, who has been out since the preseason opener with a chest injury. His replacement, Curtis Bolton, left last week’s game in Winnipeg with a knee injury and no definitive prognosis as well.
An undrafted rookie from Oklahoma, Bolton told reporters the medical staff is still gathering information on his injury and he doesn’t really know anything yet. He left Winnipeg on crutches but was not using them Sunday.
“Any time you put in that much work for something and you start seeing things swing your way and then it’s something that you can’t control happens – I got rolled up on and left the game and I have no idea if I’m going to be back soon or not – of course it’s frustrating going through that,” Bolton said. “But I have faith in my resilience.”
The Green Bay Packers practiced in preparation for the final preseason game of 2019.