The Green Bay Packers are set to open training camp later this month. This is the next in a series of articles previewing the Packers position by position, analyzing the talent on the roster and discussing key questions that are facing the Packers as they begin preparation for the 2023 season. Today we examine the safeties. For our look at the quarterbacks, click here, click here for the defensive line, here for running backs, here for inside linebackers, here for tight ends, here for edge rushers and the offensive line can be found here. We will examine another position each day until the start of training camp.
Darnell Savage has a lot to play for this season. The former first-round pick out of Maryland is playing on his fifth-year option, so a good season in 2023 sets him up to make more money in the future whether it’s for Green Bay or elsewhere.
Savage has good speed and athletic ability but his performance in the NFL has been inconsistent. In the second half of the 2020 season, he was playing at a high level and making plays. Last season, the Packers benched him midseason for poor play. He struggled in coverage and missed too many tackles including an embarrassing effort to tackle Josh Allen of the Bills.
Savage played better late in the season but still needs to prove he’s a quality NFL starter who can play consistently well. This is his last chance to show the Packers he can get the job done.
Rudy Ford stepped up last season and enjoyed a career year. GM Brian Gutekunst signed Ford primarily for special teams, but the former Auburn star saw more action on defense than expected. He started a career-high six games, intercepted more passes in a season than he ever had (three), forced one fumble and recovered another.
But how confident should Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry be that Ford is ready to be a full-time NFL starter? Opposing quarterbacks still competed 65.0 percent of their passes when throwing to receivers covered by Ford and had a quarterback rating of 106.7 according to pro-football-reference.com.
If Ford proves he’s equal to the task, this could change the trajectory of his career and help solidify the Packers secondary. If he stumbles, this could expose a costly weakness in the Green Bay secondary.
Battling for Backup Spots and a Place on the Roster
The Packers signed Tarvarius Moore as a free agent this offseason. Moore spent four seasons with San Francisco and started 13 games over that time although he didn’t start any games in 2022. He played only 41 snaps on defense but was a key special teams contributor.
Moore should play extensively on special teams and hopes to compete for the starting safety job opposite Savage, but he will need to improve his coverage skills to do that.
The Packers also signed former Texans safety Jonathan Owens as a free agent this offseason. Owens finished second on the Texans in tackles last season with 125. He really struggled in coverage however, as opposing quarterbacks recorded a 66.7 percent completion percentage and had a quarterback rating of 128.5 when throwing to receivers covered by Owens in 2022 according to pro-football-reference.com.
Owens also possesses special teams experience and that may be his key to making the roster if he is unable to win one of the starting safety jobs.
Last season was a career-best year for Owens, but he has a long way to go to establish himself as a starting caliber NFL safety.
Innis Gaines enters his third season with the Packers after being signed as an undrafted free agent. He played in seven games for the Packers last season and made his first career start.
The former TCU star played 44 snaps on defense and 99 more on special teams.
Gaines is fighting a numbers game to make the roster. With all the competition here, he will have to show he’s taken a step forward on defense and can play a more significant role to help him secure a roster spot. Strong special teams play would be his other route to making the team.
In his first season with the Packers, the former Utah State star played 308 snaps and all of them were on special teams.
If he makes the roster, he is unlikely to play on defense this season either. Leavitt is a special teams ace who will only see the field on defense in an emergency.
Anthony Johnson Jr.
The Packers selected Anthony Johnson Jr., in the seventh round of the 2023 NFL Draft. He was the only player the team drafted at this high-need position.
The Iowa State alum started his college career at corner, so he has strong coverage skills for a safety. He is more likely to play free safety and should be able to help stop the run and make plays in the box in addition to coverage.
How quickly Johnson picks up the defense and adjusts to life in the NFL will be vital for his chances to make the roster. He will compete for a spot on the special teams unit as well.
Benny Sapp III
Northern Iowa alum Benny Sapp III, signed with the Packers as an undrafted free agent in May. Sapp hopes to become a second-generation NFL player as his father also played in the league from 2004-2011.
Sapp plays an aggressive brand of football and loves to hit. He needs to make sure he’s not too aggressive and doesn’t take any unnecessary roughness penalties.
Sapp has a nose for the ball and made eight picks in the last two seasons in college. He will need a strong camp and preseason to earn a spot on the roster or practice squad.
Three Key Questions
Packers safeties Question Number 1: There’s quantity but is there quality?
The Packers said goodbye to Adrian Amos but didn’t make any big signings or high draft picks to upgrade this area.
The team has a lot of players competing for jobs on the roster but are any of them good enough to start and play well?
The secondary tends to be a position where the weakest link can ruin a good unit and the Packers can’t afford to let that happen this year.
Question Number 2: Who wins the starting position?
Savage is expected to be one starter, but the second spot is wide open. Ford, Moore, and Owens are the experienced options but which one will step up in preseason and claim the job?
Ford is the early favorite, but this will be a battle worth watching throughout training camp.
Packers safeties Question 3: Will the Pack look for veteran help?
If the players on the roster don’t step up, will Gutekunst look for veteran help on the waiver wire or free agent market? John Johnson III is still available and who knows who will be released at final cutdowns?
This remains an option but the longer the team waits to make a move, the less time the new player would have to learn the defense.
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