|Safety Morgan Burnett is having one of his best seasons after enduring some ups and downs since his debut in 2010. (US Presswire)|
Morgan Burnett, a third-round Packers' draft choice in 2010, was handed a starting safety spot based on his potential and playmaking ability. But a month into that season, he tore his ACL and was placed on injured reserve.
Last year, he played all 16 games but was thrust into a leadership role he wasn’t ready for when veteran S Nick Collins hurt his neck in September. Along with the rest of the secondary, Burnett struggled to adapt and was part of the group that would go on to become the worst pass defense in NFL history.
This has been Burnett’s best season. He’s tackling soundly and hasn’t been burned by long pass plays nearly as often as last year. Still, a ballhawk who had 14 interceptions in three seasons at Georgia Tech was pickless through the first 12 weeks.
Burnett’s play in the Packers’ 23-14 win over the Vikings last week didn't start out too well. His two missed tackles on Adrian Peterson’s 82- and 48-yard runs helped the superhuman running back gain an extra 122 yards after Burnett dived and missed.
But his pair of interceptions deep in Packers’ territory turned the tide of the game. Coach Mike McCarthy called Burnett’s first pick, an end-zone interception early on the opening series of the second half with the Vikings leading 14-10, the key play of the game, a major momentum-shifter.
Burnett’s second interception, in which he accelerated and undercut TE Kyle Rudolph’s route, diving to make an athletic play, was even better. It came with the Packers leading 20-14 and the Vikings threatening at the Green Bay 25-yard line.
On Friday, McCarthy was effusive in his praise of the third-year safety.
“You’ve really seen it going on for the last couple of years. Just the way he communicates, he knows the defense as well as or better than anybody. You’re seeing more of his personality,” McCarthy said. “I think that’s a normal path you see with young guys. He’s always been very talented. He’s a great fit for not only the position but with what we ask him to do. He gives us versatility. He’s making more plays.
“We’ve been blessed, obviously, with big-play production from our safety position. I really see Morgan Burnett developing into one of our leaders.”
On Sunday night against the Lions, Burnett will be one of several Packers defensive backs tasked with impeding WR Calvin Johnson (38 catches for 661 yards and four touchdowns over his past four games). It’s another make-or-break opportunity for the confident, freelancing, sometimes impulsive Burnet -- a chance to go for it all, at the risk of making a critical mistake but with the possibility of a game-changing big play.
Follow Packers reporter James Carlton on Twitter @CBSPackers.