Safety surge propelling Packers' defense down the stretch

December football has brought out the best in Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage

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Safeties Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage

GREEN BAY – The defensive overhaul began with a quiet, yet confident, safety walking into the Packers' locker room, wearing a red velvet suit and a gold necklace with the word "SMASH" bridging the bottom.

Adrian Amos, in his first interview with the Green Bay media corps after signing with the Packers in March 2019, let it be known what he's about – as a person and as a player.

"I feel like you can plug me in anywhere," said Amos at the time. "I just don't have to be in the box. I just don't have to be in the post (and) I just don't have to play the half. I don't even have to just play safety. I feel like I can move around in that way."

And Amos has stayed true to his word.

Two years later, Amos and second-year safety Darnell Savage have calmed the turbulent waters that led to their arrival on Green Bay's back end. While Savage has been a welcomed ball hawk in the secondary, Amos has been an everyman for defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's unit.

On top of starting all 33 games he's played for the Packers, Amos has manned both deep safety positions, the slot and even slid into the box in the dime package when injuries hit.

For example, after hybrid safety Raven Greene was placed on injured reserve on Dec. 10, it was Amos who approached defensive backs coach Jerry Gray about filling in for Greene.

Amos has played nearly half of his snaps (99 of 188) in the box over the past three games, according to Pro Football Focus, and the flexibility seems to have brought out the best in the 6-foot, 214-pound safety. Amos has 19 tackles (14 solo), five passes defensed and a sack during that stretch.

Amos got his feet wet playing that position last year, bridging the gap between Greene going on IR in Week 2 with an ankle injury and Ibraheim Campbell being activated midseason from the physically unable to perform list. That experience, and a full season spent in Pettine's system, have made it an even more seamless switch the second time around.

"He's got the range and movement skills to be able to play deep and come out of the middle of the field, or come off the hashmark as a deep-half player," said Pettine of Amos. "But then he's also physical enough and he's instinctive enough that if we do get him down in the box that he can handle some of the run game stuff. So it's nice having his versatility."

Of course, it wouldn't be possible to alter Amos' job description without having confidence in another safety commanding the back end. That's where Savage's Year 2 maturation comes in.

A month after the Packers signed Amos, General Manager Brian Gutekunst traded up to select Savage with the 21st pick in the 2019 NFL Draft – making the Maryland junior the first defensive back to come off the board.

A member of the PFWA All-Rookie team a year ago, Savage is currently tied with Pro Bowl cornerback Jaire Alexander for the team lead in passes defensed (12), while pacing the Packers with four interceptions.

Eleven of those 12 passes defensed have come since the 23-year-old safety returned from a quadriceps injury against Minnesota on Nov. 1, including Savage's two-interception performance against Chicago in Week 12.

He again flashed his ball skills during Sunday's 40-14 win over Tennessee, sniping a pass from Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill and returning it to the Tennessee 34-yard line less than two minutes into the second quarter.

The Packers drove down and scored a touchdown off the takeaway, with Aaron Rodgers' 7-yard TD pass to Davante Adams pushing Green Bay's lead to 19-0.

Savage nearly had another pick in the third quarter, darting in front of a Tannehill pass intended for A.J. Brown on third-and-7 but couldn't bring it in. The second-year safety still finished with five tackles and a career-high three passes defensed.

"Shoot, he almost had another pick-six, one that we were talking about after the game. I'm like, 'Hey man, you've got to make those,'" said Head Coach Matt LaFleur with a smile. "Just really proud of him, he's such a smart player, he's so athletic. It's so fun to see a guy work so hard and then start to have the results."

Sunday was the third time the Packers have scored a touchdown following a Savage pick this season. The only time Green Bay didn't generate points off his takeaway came at the very end of the team's 30-16 win over Philadelphia in Week 13.

Savage believes his success is rooted in his growing comfort in the defense and having more opportunities to make plays. Savage played 865 snaps and started all 14 regular-season games in which he played in 2019.

"That's always a focus every week as far as just turnovers," Savage said. "And on the play, I just happened to be in the right spot at the right time, doing my job. And like Coach Gray always says, catch the ones they throw to you."

Together, Amos and Savage have been key pieces to a defense that has steadily improved throughout the course of the year and now sits seventh in NFL total yards and sixth against the pass.

"I think that's one thing that's really good about just our entire DB group as a whole, we're all so versatile," Savage said. "We can play a whole bunch of different spots. We all can tackle. We all can cover and it allows us to do more. So it makes everything a lot easier."

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