Josh Jones' absence opens door at safety for holdover Raven Greene, newcomer Mike Tyson
GREEN BAY – Teams don't generally like to telegraph their offseason plans. But for a while it was pretty clear there was a huge hole on the Green Bay Packers' roster that general manager Brian Gutekunst was going to have to address.
Before the onset of free agency and the draft, the only safeties under contract for the Packers were Josh Jones, Raven Greene, Jason Thompson and Tray Matthews.
Sure enough, the club agreed to terms with free agent Adrian Amos on the first day of the free-agent tampering period March 11. The Packers then traded up to draft Darnell Savage Jr. in the first round of the NFL draft April 25.
The club released Thompson on April 29, and then claimed Mike Tyson off waivers from Houston on May 13. While there are still just five safeties on the roster, the position room has been remade. But the club has been operating through the voluntary organized team activity period with just four, as Jones has elected to stay away and reportedly wants to be traded.
It has left the 24-year-old Greene, he of the 43 career defensive snaps, as the “veteran” of defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s system.
“That’s a weird thing, yeah, just looking around the room and knowing that I’m one of, what’s to be considered, a veteran,” Greene said with a smile.
“I definitely took my licks that first year in the system. Things have definitely slowed down a lot. It’s a lot easier to recognize the full scheme once you know more than one job.”
And while Amos and Savage have immediately been placed at the top of the depth chart in practice, Jones’ absence has opened up snaps for Greene and Tyson to show what they can do.
“We’re always all competing and that’s the thing,” Greene said. “I’m just trying to take as much advantage of the opportunity that I’m given. That’s really all that is, just trying to put my best foot forward every day and really getting after it.”
Tyson, who will be 26 in July, is experiencing a bit of a learning curve as he is in his third defense in three years. For now, he says, Pettine has installed him at just safety to give him a foundation to work off. He was a true safety at the University of Cincinnati, but when the Seattle Seahawks drafted him in the sixth round in 2017, they moved him to corner.
He could never quite crack the lineup with the Seahawks, however.
“I was moving in Seattle, corner the first year behind Richard Sherman and them, then I was playing a little bit of nickel, then second year I’m back to safety because of the Earl Thomas holdout,” Tyson said. “Everything was working well over there, I was the utility guy and I was cool with that. But the only problem with that was I didn’t have a home position.”
After being released by Seattle, Tyson hooked on in Houston. With the Texans, he played 142 defensive snaps and 100 on special teams. He called his release a surprise, but holds no grudges as the Packers told him they had a high draft grade on him out of Cincinnati.
“I got a great opportunity here,” Tyson said. “I just have to show and prove.
“Right now, because I’m still learning the playbook, I’m just stationary (as a safety). They told me to look at the dime but not too much of the dime because we’re still learning safety right now. Then when I learn safety they can start moving me around. I personally really don’t care, but having a little foundation can take you a long ways. But being versatile can take you a long ways as well.”
Both players ended 2018 on injured reserve with leg injuries, though Tyson said if the nicks on his right knee and ankle had come at any point before the Texans were about to enter the playoffs, he would not have been placed on IR.
Greene had an arthroscopic procedure on his ankle during the offseason, but it wasn’t serious enough to prevent him from being ready for the start of voluntary workouts in early April. In fact, it allowed him to add noticeable upper-body bulk to his 5-11 frame.
“I made a little advancement, rolled the sleeves up and gotta ask for an extra-small jersey, trying to get the smallest shoulder pads I can,” Greene joked. “Naturally I just really like to work hard in the weight room and being that I couldn’t work legs for a really long time, it just balanced out that way. I haven’t really lost a step, which is the best part about it.”
The mass may be necessary, as Greene has gotten some early looks at the safety/linebacker spot often occupied by Jones. Such versatility may be necessary for him — as well as Tyson’s background at corner — as the theme for the 2019 Packers defense clearly is “positional flexibility.”
For instance, secondary coach Jason Simmons wouldn’t peg Josh Jackson (6-0, 196) as just a cornerback when given the chance, and cornerback Tramon Williams ended up playing the second half of 2018 as a safety.
So while the official roster may list just five safeties, it’s possible there are already more on the team, which means showing out in practice and the preseason will be important for Greene and Tyson.
“In terms of what position, I don’t like to box guys in,” Simmons said. “If a guy shows me that he can show some versatility, which always helps you to make the ballclub, I’ll allow him to do that.”