GREEN BAY – The lineup may be different when the Green Bay Packers return to practice again on Monday. But if Sunday’s practice was any indication – and we really don’t know if it was – Jerron McMillian is positioning himself to be the nickel and dime safety when Charles Woodson moves to the slot in sub packages, and Jarrett Bush is still the best option as the No. 2 cornerback coaches’ minds.
Again, Anthony Levine or M.D. Jennings could be in that safety spot on Monday, and Sam Shields or Casey Hayward could be running with the starters at cornerback. As coach Mike McCarthy made clear, nothing has been decided in advance of Thursday’s preseason finale against Kansas City.
“That’s not as cut and dried, the way I approach it and we approach it,” McCarthy said. “The secondary is still right where we were. I stand by what I said last week. There will be decisions that will be made in the secondary off the Kansas City game.”
True though that may be, there’s no denying that McMillian has worked his way up the depth chart and shown more ability as a deep safety than many thought he had coming out of Maine as a fourth-round pick.
For the first time in camp, McMillian took the first snap with the No. 1 nickel and dime defenses in practice Sunday. Although he had gotten his first reps with the No. 1 defense after the Aug. 16 exhibition game against Cleveland, this was the first time he got the call at the start of every team period.
“It means a lot,” McMillian said. “It just seems the coaches are a little more confident in myself, and that just makes me more confident to be able to go out there with the first sub package.”
The 5-foot-11, 203-pound McMillian has impressed McCarthy with his versatility, as he worked in the dime defense as the other slot defender (opposite Woodson) earlier in camp.
“For a young guy, the thing you have to be impressed with is his flexibility. I don’t know how many times I know in my career where you have a safety come in and also has the ability to go down and play inside in the dime or even the nickel,” McCarthy said. “He gives you flexibility, which when you’re making a 53-man roster is an important attribute to bring to the table because it’s one thing to make a football team. As we all know it’s another thing to be up on Sundays on the 46-man, so I would say his flexibility is definitely a huge asset.”
Oddly enough, coming out of college, scouts wondered whether McMillian was only an in-the-box type of safety, the kind that can be effective in run support but would be a liability in pass coverage as a deep safety. If the Packers are considering him an option in the sub package, he’s shown them enough that they feel he can handle playing centerfield.
“A lot of people say, ‘Oh yeah, you look good in the box,’” McMillian said. “I mean, it’s just a strength. I’m good at it, yeah, but I’m also good at other things. Coming into college, I was never in the box. I played deep safety (and) did the things that a lot of people don’t see me doing a lot.”
McMillian knows he’ll have to keep his momentum going with two more strong practices this week – whether he’s working in the No. 1 sub packages or not – and against the Chiefs on Thursday night.
“Just keep improving,” McMillian said of his goals. “Making sure I’m in the right spot, making the right plays and the plays I do make, make them to my full advantage and not make a mistake on them.”
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