Morgan Burnett hurt, but secondary depth helps Packers; rookie Ha Ha Clinton-Dix makes strides

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Green Bay Packers' Casey Hayward (29) and Morgan Burnett celebrate a fourth and short stop during the second half of an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Tom Lynn)


GREEN BAY, Wisconsin — The Packers could very well face a high-scoring game this weekend without two members of their starting secondary against the New Orleans Saints and quarterback Drew Brees.

Green Bay safety Micah Hyde, however, would like to deflate expectations that there might be a lot of points. The Packers do have the sixth-ranked pass defense in the league, after all.

"As a defense, when you hear it's going to be a shootout, it's kind of disrespectful," Hyde said Thursday.

"They're going to say what they want to say and the media is going to say what they want to say," he said, but he and his teammates know "what we're capable of doing."

The secondary could be without starting safety Morgan Burnett, who sat out a second day of practice Thursday with a calf injury. Burnett has bounced back from a subpar 2013 season with what coach Mike McCarthy feels is one of the fifth-year player's best seasons.

Burnett has a team-high 56 tackles and a forced fumble through seven games for Green Bay (5-2). The secondary is also missing cornerback Sam Shields, who sat out practice again with a left knee injury that kept him out of last week's win over Carolina.

The injury situation might cause panic in many other teams that have to next play the Saints (2-4), who are eager to stabilize themselves in the NFC South. Top tight end Jimmy Graham, who practiced on a limited basis Thursday with a shoulder injury, could return to give Brees a key target in the passing game

But one of the Packers' defensive strengths this year is the depth in the secondary. Davon House stepped up capably for Shields at cornerback last week against Carolina, while Casey Hayward picked off a pass for the second straight game.

At safety, McCarthy said Thursday that he was more concerned about Burnett after he couldn't practice. Green Bay next practices on Saturday, so another off day could help the healing process.

If Burnett can't go, the Packers seem comfortable with starting Hyde and rookie Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at safety. Hyde is a converted cornerback, while Clinton-Dix was drafted in the first round out of Alabama.

They're new to the position in the NFL, but they've both shown the potential to make plays.

"They're still young guys and as young guys, you always worry a little bit because they're just short on experience," safeties coach Darren Perry said. "We're going into our eighth game, and so they still are relatively raw from that standpoint."

The duo, though, has helped shore up what was a position of weakness last season. Clinton-Dix, in particular, has played well.

He made his first start at free safety in the 38-17 rout of the Panthers and finished with a team-high eight tackles. Clinton-Dix's highlight play was a strong open-field stop after closing quickly to hold a receiver to a 1-yard gain.

McCarthy said Clinton-Dix is ready for a full game after alternating with Hyde. Perry is particularly impressed with how Clinton-Dix bounces back after missing a tackle or making another mistake.

"You're going to miss some, that's the National Football League," Perry said. "But the one thing that I do see is when we miss, we're missing aggressively ... and that's the one thing that you like to see in a football player, where he's not being timid, he's not being hesitant.

"He's making a decision, and he's pulling the trigger, and so you can live with that," Perry said.

Also Thursday, running back James Starks and defensive end Datone Jones each returned to practice on a limited basis. Both players were dealing with ankle injuries.


AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL


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