Micah Hyde still teases Ron Zook about the first time he met his future special-teams coordinator.
Before player and coach came together in the Green Bay Packers’ employ, their first encounter was at a University of Illinois football camp when Zook was the head coach of the Illini and Hyde a prospective recruit.
Zook liked Hyde enough — a two-star quarterback/defensive back out of Fostoria, Ohio — but extended a scholarship to a receiver instead.
Hyde later joined Iowa’s secondary, became a three-year starter and eventually landed in Green Bay as a fifth-round draft pick in 2013. Zook wouldn’t name the receiver he offered in lieu of Hyde. Suffice it to say that player never made it to the NFL.
“I remembered (Hyde). He remembered me. I remember the exact day he was at the camp,” said Zook, who joined the Packers’ staff in 2014. “We took another receiver over him. I said (to him), ‘Well, recruiting is not an exact science. I screwed that up.’ We had a good player, but he’s a good football player.”
Hyde’s early interaction with Zook is a microcosm of his football career. He’s the type of player you tend to gain more of an appreciation for on the field than what’s reflected on a stopwatch or stat sheet.
In two years, he’s developed into the Packers’ Swiss-army knife. Young cornerbacks are expected to play inside and outside in Green Bay, but few have been asked to do as much as Hyde has early on. Only 24, he knows how to play every position in the secondary and is a game-changer on special teams.
Still, Hyde’s achievements often have been overshadowed. He had a nice array of Division I scholarship offers, but little of that attention came from the Big Ten. Four years later, he was honored as the conference’s defensive back of the year.
By that time, the conversation already had shifted to a perceived slow time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine. The Packers saw past that. Hyde’s tweener characteristics aligned with the vision defensive coordinator Dom Capers had for his evolving defense.
“It’s getting kind of cliche, but I’ve been doing it my whole life,” Hyde said of his role. “It’s not like something new that I had to like all of a sudden to come here and play in all the defenses, play on special teams. I didn’t have to worry about that. I feel comfortable doing it and I think they know that.”
Entering his third NFL season, Hyde may be one of the most important pieces to Capers’ defense even if he doesn’t have the name recognition of Clay Matthews, the pedigree of Julius Peppers or the blazing speed of Sam Shields.
It only took two years for the Packers to teach Hyde every position in their secondary. The transition to safety last year enabled him to start the first seven games on the back end and play more than 700 defensive snaps with his work in the nickel and dime subpackages.
The Packers drafted a pair of cornerbacks, Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, with their first two picks, but Hyde remains the frontrunner to man the slot in the nickel subpackage. If anything happens to starting safeties Morgan Burnett or Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, he appears to be the next-man-up there, as well.
“I’ve always felt the more things a guy can do for you increases his value,” Capers said. “I think he’s given us good leadership now. You can see he’s been around here for a while. He’s a confident player. I think he’s got very good communication skills. You like Micah because he can play so many different spots. That’s important.”
How Hyde has balanced his defensive responsibilities with his contributions on special teams is what his coaches appreciate the most. He’s returned three punts for touchdowns on 38 career attempts with a robust average of 13.6 yards per return.
His 15.8 yards per return and two touchdowns last season would have made him the NFL’s leading punt returner if he’d had six more attempts to meet the minimum requirement. Instead, he split duties with receiver Randall Cobb.
In need of a spark on kickoffs, Hyde even stepped in late in the 2013 season. His 70-yard return against Pittsburgh on Dec. 22, 2013, remains the closest the Packers have come to a kickoff return for a touchdown since Sept. 8, 2011.
Hyde has been serving as personal protector for Tim Masthay on punt coverage so far in camp, potentially sandwiching his special-team duties on both sides of a defensive series. Hyde laughs at the novelty of it all. Playing four downs is something he’s been doing since he started playing football.
“He’s always available,” cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. “It’s truly four downs with him. It’s multiple positions. He starts off first and second down nickel and then third down go to dime and now he’s returning the punt. He’s truly a four-down player. He’s very valuable for us.”
Hyde has yet to miss a game in the NFL. His tackling ability — 114 in 32 regular-season games — is the biggest reason he held onto the nickel job for most of last season, but the Packers see ball-hawking potential, too. He had two picks last season and a few others during the offseason program.
Whitt has complete trust in his decision-making. Even if Hyde is playing out of position, his coach has confidence the mental errors will be minimal. Hyde has proven he’s able to juggle the physical and mental burden of being active in the cornerbacks, safeties and special-teams rooms.
Hyde believes his education at safety has made him a better defensive back. He understands what Clinton-Dix and Burnett are looking for on the back end. He can communicate and switch assignments with Shields or Casey Hayward depending on what an offense is showing.
The Packers lost more than 20 seasons of experience when Tramon Williams (Cleveland), Jarrett Bush (free agent) and Davon House (Jacksonville) left this offseason. Shields, Hayward and Hyde aren’t the most experienced secondary in the NFL, but they have developed chemistry in their short time together.
“I do see myself as a leader,” Hyde said. “I think in the cornerbacks room, I’m the third oldest. In the safety room, me and (Chris) Banjo came together. You have Jean (Fanor) and Ha a year behind us. We’re still kind of young in there. As far as DBs go, I have a little more experience than the average one. I just relay the message, help guys get lined up and help them with the plays.”
The Packers feel Hyde’s best football is in front of him. He might not have been the biggest recruit coming out of high school or a first-round pick out of Iowa, but the Packers are happy he made his way to Green Bay.
At some point this season, there’s a good possibility the Packers will need to lean on Hyde’s versatility. Whenever that day arrives, his coaches are confident he’ll be up to the challenge.
“He’s played so much ball for us that you feel like he’s older, but this is still his third year,” Whitt said. “Micah is a guy who you can really, really trust and believe in. I’ve said it many times — if he was 8 years old, he could marry my daughter. He’s that type of guy. He’s a quality person and he’s as good a football player.
“I believe in Micah Hyde.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.