GREEN BAY, Wis. — Morgan Burnett has endured a lot of criticism over the past year. After a season in which the Green Bay Packers top safety struggled with making big plays, many agreed that some level of criticism was warranted.
Burnett doesn’t see it that way, though.
"I don’t see it as a setback at all," Burnett said. "I treat every year as a way to get better as a player, mentally and physically, and that’s what I’m doing going into this year.
"But I didn’t look at it as a bad season or anything like that."
It’s well chronicled that Burnett — along with the Packers’ entire safety group — failed to record an interception or force a fumble in 2013. While those statistics are far from the only important ones for a safety, it’s often a major turning point in a game when a turnover is forced.
Burnett opts to not pay attention to the opinions of those outside Lambeau Field headquarters. Inside the building, Burnett has support from safeties coach Darren Perry.
"I still think Morgan’s a heck of a football player," Perry said. "I know our critics may not agree, but again, Morgan’s going to be fine and he’s still a young player, ascending, and we’ve just got to keep him going."
Perry described the Packers’ overall safety play last season as "sporadic," adding that he’s looking for more consistency during the 2014 season.
Even with the addition of first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and with Micah Hyde converting into a hybrid role, the highest expectations from the group will be on Burnett. That was true last season, as well, especially as Burnett was just coming off signing a four-year, nearly $25 million contract extension. But while some might point to all that money as a factor that put too much pressure on Burnett, that wasn’t the case.
"There was no pressure at all," Burnett said. "It’s part of the business. It’s a blessing and I’m thankful to be going into my fifth year in the NFL. It’s a hard thing to do, and now I’m just trying to maintain and keep getting better and stay in the league as long as I can."
While Burnett is the presumed leader of the new-look safety group, he didn’t look at former teammate M.D. Jennings as a player who was weighing him down. In fact, Burnett said Jennings is a "great NFL safety." Burnett believes that Jennings’ "play and athletic ability is real underrated."
Regardless of Burnett’s high praise for Jennings (who’s now with the Chicago Bears after signing a one-year deal this offseason), the Packers are clearly an improved team at safety heading into this season.
"I think we have a real good group," Burnett said. "The competition in that room is going to bring the best out of everyone, and that’s what you need; a healthy competition."
Unless Clinton-Dix follows in the footsteps of his former Alabama teammate Eddie Lacy and has a Rookie of the Year season, it’ll be up to Burnett to prove Perry right and his critics wrong.
"Just really my main goal is to grow and show improvement from the previous year," Burnett said. "My main thing is just to do my job and be accountable towards my teammates. I can’t get caught up in trying to worry about how many interceptions or worry about my stats; I’ve just got to line up and do my job, whether that’s me coming in the box and making tackles, or whether that’s me covering, or whether that’s me getting an interception.
"I just want to do my job and I know those big plays and things like that will come as long as you’re in the right position to make them."