Hyde excited for his debut at safety

Weston Hodkiewicz
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It's been the question on the tongue of nearly every Green Bay Packers fan since Micah Hyde was taken in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL draft.

Green Bay Packers defensive back Micah Hyde during training camp practice at Ray Nitschke Field.

Why not move him to safety?

More than a year of anticipation ends Thursday night at CenturyLink Field when Hyde lines up in the back end for the first time in a regular-season game with the Packers' reshuffled secondary. In all likelihood, he'll probably start across from Morgan Burnett, though first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will also play.

Fans crowed for the move to be made last season amidst the secondary's struggles. While Hyde's efforts were needed in the slot of the nickel and dime subpackages with Casey Hayward out for the season, safety had turned into a sieve.

For better and worse, the Packers and defensive coordinator Dom Capers never changed course. Hyde started and finished the year in the cornerbacks room. His 55 tackles ranked seventh on the team.

It wasn't until the first day of the offseason program that safeties coach Darren Perry and the rest of the coaching staff finally mentioned the "s-word."

Reflecting back on it, Hyde believes that was probably best for all parties involved.

"No. No," said Hyde when asked if he was ready to play safety last season. "I was talking to DP a couple weeks back. We were just talking and he was like there's no way you could've done that. Looking back yeah, I could've lined up back there, but I would have been like 'Hey Morgan, what's this? What's that?' You don't want to play football that way. You can't play fast. DP said it wouldn't have been fair to me and it wouldn't have been fair to the defense."

You don't need to tell the Packers safeties they didn't have an interception last season. They've been well-briefed on the topic since last year's regular-season finale in Chicago. The silence has triggered changes, though.

Burnett is the only remaining safety who started last season on the Packers' active roster. Hyde and Clinton-Dix have replaced McMillian and Jennings. Former undrafted rookie Chris Banjo is now stashed on the practice squad under new league provisions.

With an agenda to create more versatility in place, the past four months were dedicated to making sure Hyde knew what he was doing. It's been an eye-opener, too. Hyde believes he's learned more this offseason than his entire rookie season combined at cornerback.

Although the Packers drafted Clinton-Dix in May, Hyde stayed at the top of the depth chart through the offseason program and training camp. There were some teachable moments – Hyde points to the defense's first series against Oakland and Maurice Jones-Drew's 40-yard touchdown – but generally the positives outweighed the negatives.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said early in the offseason he saw Hyde as a four-down player. Along with his duties on returns, they're counting on him to be able to play the safety spot in the 3-4 and nickel defenses, and dropping into the slot in the dime package with six defensive backs.

The Packers tried this trick with Charles Woodson in 2012, but his broken collarbone and advanced age left produced results. At 23, Hyde is an ideal candidate. Much like they're doing with Clinton-Dix, the Packers believe the key was bringing him along at a comfortable pace.

"As a rookie, it's tough enough learning how to play one position and Micah was playing, corner, nickel, a little bit of dime for us," Perry said. "He had a lot on his plate. It's tough for a rookie to come in and have success in this scheme right away just from all the mental requirements that's required. It wouldn't have been fair to him. Micah did some good things for us last year in getting an opportunity to get him going from ground-up has been good."

Hyde swears he wasn' informed of the shift until the first day of the offseason program when he was told to report to the safety's room instead of the cornerbacks. The playbook didn't change, but the assignments were much different.

In the preseason, Hyde and Clinton-Dix each received more work than the rest of the Packers' preferred starters, finishing with a combined 15 tackles and a sack.

As the Packers begin the 2014 season, Hyde and Clinton-Dix have provided the Packers with reason for excitement on the back end. Both safeties have shown the ability to blitz off the edge and stop the run. The Packers hope it's a precursor of the plays to come.

Sitting inside his locker earlier this week, Hyde agrees the Packers did the right thing. While some have clamored the Packers didn't do enough with him last season, Hyde already knows how to play each position in the secondary not two years into his NFL career.

So far, the Packers' plan for Hyde is right on schedule.

"I think they did the right thing and let the season play out," Hyde said. "Finally, I get an opportunity to see what I can do." and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.

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