Insider: Thumbs up to Clinton-Dix, down to muffed returns
One of the Green Bay Packers' biggest problems last season was a high rate of missed tackles, especially from members of the secondary. Defensive backs Morgan Burnett, Sam Shields, Chris Banjo and the departed M.D. Jennings had enough missed tackles to warrant the team spending its first-round draft pick in May on safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
In his pro debut Saturday night, the former Alabama standout showed he's not averse to contact. Playing the entire first half with the first-team defense, mainly because Burnett sat out with an oblique injury, Clinton-Dix had three tackles and a pass-breakup.
On his first attempted tackle, however, he had bad form, making contact but not wrapping up. From there on, he showed why Packers coaches believe he'll be an upgrade at safety. He was quick to fill the gap on run plays and was sure and confident in the open field.
On Tennessee's last drive of the first half, he fought off blocks to make two tackles and then showed recovery speed in coverage on Titans tight end Taylor Thompson. Clinton-Dix tried to jump the route and let Thompson get behind him down the middle of the field, but was able to catch up to Thompson as the pass arrived and stripped the ball for an incompletion.
Granted, the game was played in a monsoon at times, but the Packers' kick and punt returners had a lot of trouble hanging on to the ball.
The worst of the efforts came from rookie wide receiver Davante Adams, who muffed the only two punts that came his way. On the first one, the second-round draft pick was chasing back on a long punt but couldn't judge the catch. The ball slipped through his hands, but it squirted to his right. He was able to tip it away from the gunner, picked it up and gained some yardage.
The second one, however, was recovered by the Titans and led to their first touchdown. On that one, Adams was near the Packers' 10 yard line and called for a fair catch. But the ball went through his arms and bounced off his knee. The Titans recovered at the 13 and scored on their first play from scrimmage. Packers coach Mike McCarthy seemed upset, looking back at Adams and special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum as they talked on the sideline.
But Adams wasn't the only Packers returner who had a tough time making clean catches. On the ensuing kickoff after the Titans' touchdown, DuJuan Harris muffed the kick in the end zone, but recovered the ball and returned it to the 24-yard line. In the third quarter, Micah Hyde muffed a punt after calling for a fair catch, but quickly recovered the ball.
Did you notice?
• Free-agent halfback Rajion Neal made his case during a second-half scoring drive in which he had carries of 8 and 15 yards before scoring a touchdown from 12 yards out. The 5-11, 221-pound former University of Tennessee player showed shiftiness and power on the series. On the touchdown run, he lowered his head and ran through a Tennessee defensive back near the goal line.
• Chris Harper, who is trying to earn a spot among a crowded receiver group, had about as up and down a night as anyone. On the Packers' first possession of the second half, the 6-1, 228-pound second-year player made a nice catch and showed his toughness on a throw behind him over the middle for a 16-yard gain. He was drilled on the play, but hung on to the ball. Then, three plays later, Harper was wide open after finding a seam in the zone defense along the left sideline for a 37-yard gain on second-and-20. But then he had two bad drops, the first on a two-point conversion attempt. The ball was slightly underthrown, but it was very catchable.
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @robertzizzo.