GREEN BAY – Day two of training camp was a big one for the defensive backs at Nitschke Field.
Veteran safety Morgan Burnett had two interceptions on Friday, rookie cornerback Damarious Randall knocked away a deep ball with a leaping deflection, new starting cornerback Casey Hayward got a piece of multiple passes, and the list went on.
“That was a good start for us today,” Burnett said. “You see guys out there hungry, ready to compete, and that’s what you want.”
Burnett’s first pick came on a pass by rookie QB Brett Hundley that hung in the air too long on its way to tight end Justin Perillo.
The second was more impressive, as Hayward tipped an Aaron Rodgers throw that Burnett snagged in stride. The play ended the no-huddle drill pitting the No. 1 offense vs. the No. 1 defense after just one play.
“Especially going against A-Rod and Jordy and Randall and those guys, we take these days when we can get ’em,” said Hayward, who has lined up as the starting corner opposite Sam Shields for the first two days of camp. “It doesn’t happen a lot, especially with (number) 12 over there.”
The secondary is working to replace two veteran cornerbacks in Tramon Williams and Davon House, who departed in free agency. It’ll help that for the first time in several years the starting safeties supporting those corners will be the same pair for a second straight year.
Burnett and 2014 first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix appear to be developing into a formidable duo as the depth chart of young corners sorts itself out in front of them.
“Sometimes you get confused and you think, ‘This is just your second year,’” Burnett said of Clinton-Dix. “He seems like a vet. Nothing seems too big or overwhelming for him. He’s always willing to learn.”
A similar chemistry is growing between newly paired inside linebackers Clay Matthews and Sam Barrington.
Matthews has taken a majority of his snaps early in camp on the inside while shifting back outside on occasion. He credits Barrington, who took over as a starter down the stretch last season, with bringing him along.
“We’re continuing to understand each other,” Barrington said. “We talk about the position every day and different things we can do. It’s fun and I think we’ll continue growing.”
A five-time Pro Bowler as an outside linebacker, Matthews saw his impact on the defense grow after the switch inside on run downs last season. As he works to master the inside role from the start this year, the idea is he’ll become even more difficult to game plan against.
Defensive lineman Mike Daniels believes Matthews and Barrington “brought a certain toughness to the position” when they played inside together late last season. So far in camp, when Matthews has lined up outside, either Nate Palmer or rookie fourth-round pick Jake Ryan has been Barrington’s inside partner.
“It’s a good mix-up,” Matthews said. “It provides a good challenge and at the same time keeps me fresh. It’s really important for me to grasp this opportunity, take it and run with it.”
If it all comes together, the “sky’s the limit” for this defense, according to Barrington. He and his mates don’t need to be reminded that 6 ½ months ago they outplayed the league’s top-ranked defense in its own backyard for 56-plus minutes.
“Obviously, we need to finish,” Matthews said, “but if that’s any indication of where we’re going …”
“That’s the challenge,” Burnett said. “It’s not just about playing great for the first three quarters. We have to play a complete game. We have to finish. That’s our main focus. Everything we do, we want to start fast and finish strong.”