Coaches noticing Clinton-Dix's effort, growth

Weston Hodkiewicz
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The film doesn't lie and neither did Darren Perry when breaking down Ha Ha Clinton-Dix's failed attempt at a touchdown-saving tackle in last month's opener against Seattle.

The Green Bay Packers rookie safety was the defense's last line of defense with Seahawks receiver Ricardo Lockette charging toward him. However, Clinton-Dix came flat-footed and whiffed on the open-field take down, allowing Lockette easy access to the 33-yard score.

Green Bay Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (21) lays a hit on receiver Mike Wallace (11) knocking the ball loose against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium.

Back in the film room, the Packers' safeties coach let his pupil hear about it.

"DP was very upset with me after the game," Clinton-Dix said. "I was upset with myself after the Seattle game. He expects a lot from me and I'm going to give him all that I have and just continue to improve."

Clinton-Dix hasn't been perfect this season. Like every rookie, there have been growing pains. According to Pro Football Focus, he has three missed tackles, but there's a difference between standing around and aggressively pursuing the ball.

That's one lesson Perry has tried to pass down to the Packers' first-round pick. You're going to miss tackles from time-to-time, but it's important to always be aggressive in your approach.

It's a similar lecture Clinton-Dix heard when he first arrived at Alabama. A defensive backs coach by trade, he recalls Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban being in the secondary room "24/7."

There are pros and cons to having the head guy in your room, but Clinton-Dix felt he was a better play because of it. Now in Green Bay, he's felt his confidence steadily increase alongside his snap count.

Clinton-Dix received his first NFL start in Sunday's 38-17 win and played all 69 defensive snaps. He may be called on to do it again this Sunday against New Orleans if safety Morgan Burnett can't play due to a calf injury that has him listed as questionable.

Clinton-Dix had a career-high nine tackles against the Panthers, including one where he sprinted to stop Jason Avant for a 1-yard gain on receiver screen in the second quarter. After halftime, he took the same approach on a swing pass to Jerricho Cotchery, but flew by him.

Yes, it was a missed tackle, but those are the kind of effort plays the coaching staff would rather see over standing still in Seattle.

"Coach sees us out there giving effort, 100 percent effort, whether we miss the tackle or we make it, he can live with that," Clinton-Dix said. "Once he sees up coming up short or kind of hesitating on making the tackle, then he really has a problem. He doesn't like that at all."

The Packers' secondary is in for one of its toughest assignments of the season this Sunday against New Orleans, whose second-ranked offense employs eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees and All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham.

A year ago, this might have been an issue with Burnett's status in question. However, the coaches feel confident in Clinton-Dix and Micah Hyde. Even third-year safety Sean Richardson has been playing well enough on special teams and spot defensive duty to warrant snaps in McCarthy's mind.

"This is the way it's supposed to be," said McCarthy of his safety depth. "You can't have as many good players as possible, you never have enough."

Clinton-Dix says if you go into Perry's room the words "Physical. Physical. Physical" are prominently displayed. We'll have to take his word for it.

Based on his early production, however, the Packers appear to unearthed a safety who has no problem abiding by those rules.

"You're going to miss some, that's the National Football League," Perry said. "But the one thing that I do see is when we miss, we're missing aggressively, we're missing to our leverage, and that's the one thing that you like to see in a football player where he's not being timid, he's not being hesitant. He's making a decision and he's pulling the trigger, and so you can live with that." and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.

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