The Green Bay Packers are keeping their fingers crossed Morgan Burnett is back on the field on Sunday, but that doesn’t mean they’re balking at the prospect of having Jerron McMillian and M.D. Jennings working at safety if he’s not.
As has been the case all week, Burnett was limited in Friday’s final run-through before the Packers welcome Washington to town on Sunday. He was able to do a “little bit” of team work on Friday, according to Packers coach Mike McCarthy, but still is listed as questionable to play against the Redskins.
McCarthy indicated Burnett hasn’t suffered any further setbacks with the hamstring. He initially injured it during an Aug. 23 preseason game against Seattle before it flared up three days before Sunday’s regular-season opener in San Francisco.
Burnett’s absence forced McMillian into his first career start at safety with him and Jennings garnering a brunt of the criticism for the secondary’s role in allowing Colin Kaepernick to throw for 412 passing yards.
According to Pro Football Focus, McMillian had nearly as many missed tackles (four) as he had actual ones (five) while allowing six catches on six targets for 57 yards and a touchdown.
Despite the rough start, Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers and safeties coach Darren Perry still have faith both players are equipped to handle those duties on Sunday if Burnett is ruled out.
“I think our guys will be a week better,” Capers said. “Last week we practiced Thursday thinking we were going to have Morgan, Friday it came up we weren’t going to have him. So all week now these guys, they got a game under their belt. Morgan’s practiced this week some, not knowing what his status is going to be, you’re certainly more prepared.”
If Burnett isn’t able to go, it’s still unlikely McMillian and Jennings will play the 182 combined defensive snaps they did against the 49ers. On Monday, Capers said the team planned to get undrafted rookie Chris Banjo more involved after he played only four defensive snaps.
That could mean Banjo relieving McMillian in the dime sub-package, which would allow the second-year safety to man his usual post in the slot where he’s seen the most reps and has the best feel, according to Perry.
Veteran cornerback Jarrett Bush worked in that spot during Sunday's loss, but is questionable to play against Washington after sitting out of Friday's practice with the hamstring he pulled Thursday.
“Not knowing what to do wasn’t the reason we lost the game – we just didn’t execute the technique and fundamentals you have to in a big game of that magnitude,” Perry said. “We just didn’t make any plays. M.D. didn’t have any missed tackles so he wasn’t as bad as people make it out to be. There’s no panic in that respect. Jerron has to clean up a couple misses.
“You can’t make too much to do about it because we all play bad in spots. It wasn’t two guys who lost the game for us.”
Although Burnett didn’t receive the full slate of reps he would on a typical week, Perry believes the fourth-year pro is at a stage in his career where he could be effective Sunday despite the light-work load.
That’s assuming his hamstring checks out at game time.
“Mentally, yes. Mentally, he understands this defense as well as anybody we got,” Perry said. “He’s a quarterback back there. (Burnett) not having to get all the reps isn’t as big of an issue as it would be with some other player back there.”