GREEN BAY, Wis. — A week away from the NFL helped Green Bay Packers safety Morgan Burnett recover from a hamstring injury. However, a week away from the NFL also cost Burnett the dreadlocks that he’d been growing out since his sophomore year of high school.
When Burnett arrived in his hometown in Georgia for the Packers’ bye week, he finally gave in to family pressure and parted with the hairstyle that he’d been making his own for nearly 10 years.
“My mom’s been on my case for about five years about it, so it really made her day,” Burnett said. “I did it for her.”
No, this had nothing to do with superstition or a belief that having a buzz cut would somehow produce quicker healing for Burnett’s hamstring. He insisted it was just a situation where he “had to go home and get a new look.” But as he reported back to Green Bay this week — perhaps a couple pounds lighter from all the hair he left back in Georgia, Burnett had made his mother happy and had overcome a hamstring injury that forced him to miss the Packers’ first three games.
One week after posing for the camera in his family’s kitchen to show off his new look, Burnett was able to show off his athleticism on the practice field Monday afternoon.
“It was almost like a kid waiting the night before Christmas,” Burnett said. “I was real excited about getting back up here, getting back on the field. I felt like a little kid at the candy store. It was fun being out there.”
Burnett missed 12 games with a torn ACL during his rookie season in 2010, but he had gotten accustomed to being healthy since then by playing every game the past two years.
Green Bay’s defense needs Burnett available. The front office realized just how important Burnett was when they gave him a four-year, $25 million contract extension in July. Burnett will almost certainly make his season debut Sunday and have a chance to show that he was worth the investment.
“Main goal is just to do my job, be accountable,” Burnett said. “Don’t go out and force things that aren’t there, chasing things that aren’t there. Playing my technique and being honest with my eyes and my reads and doing my job to the best of my ability.”
When the 24-year-old Burnett is healthy, he’s one of the NFL’s best young safeties. He led the team in tackles last season and has forced two fumbles in each of the past two seasons. Coach Mike McCarthy even refers to Burnett as “the quarterback of the defense.” So, Burnett’s return should be a big addition for a Packers team that finds itself with a 1-2 record and preparing to host the division-leading 3-1 Detroit Lions in Week 5.
“I’ll be very excited,” Burnett said. “I’m so excited and ready to get back on the field. I enjoy being out on the field. That’s what I love to do and that’s my job. I’m just excited. I was excited even to put on my pads and practice. I’m really going to be excited come Sunday.”
Given that Green Bay’s training staff played it somewhat safe with Burnett and kept him out for the first month of the regular season, there shouldn’t be any risk for him to aggravate his hamstring any further.
“You know where your strength level is when you’re capable of running around full speed with nothing holding you back,” Burnett said. “The training room does a great job having me do different exercises. The strength and condition coach, Coach (Mark) Lovat, does a great job with strengthening those areas that we hurt.
“That’s all you’ve got to do is stick to the regimen and just keep building that strength so you don’t have any setbacks.”
It may be difficult to recognize Burnett without his dreadlocks, but if the Packers’ 28th-ranked passing defense suddenly starts looking improved, it shouldn’t come as a surprise.