GREEN BAY – Reliability goes a long way in the NFL, and Packers safety Chris Banjo certainly has demonstrated the trait.
He’s often one of the first Packers down the field on punt and kickoff coverage, but he’s also proved to be a capable fill-in as an extra safety in the dime defense when needed.
Last week against Kansas City, Banjo actually started a game on defense with Morgan Burnett and Sean Richardson both out due to injuries and the unit opening in dime. He played roughly half the defensive snaps and broke up a pass along the sideline intended for Chiefs receiver Jeremy Maclin on third down, nearly picking it off.
With Richardson’s return in San Francisco, Banjo was back to playing only a few snaps on defense, but he considers himself a guy who can be counted on at any time.
“No doubt about it,” Banjo said in the locker room following the victory over the 49ers. “In this game, you have to feel like that. There’s no way you can look at yourself, ever, whether you’re a starter or not, as a liability.”
His calling card remains special teams, and he’s making his presence felt regularly. He had two coverage tackles against the Chiefs and added another against the 49ers, coming from his personal protector spot on the punt team to be the first one in returner Jarryd Hayne’s face. He brought him down solo after just a 6-yard return, and the Packers netted 43 yards on the punt.
Earlier, Banjo nearly caused a turnover on another Hayne return, neatly sidestepping and gently shoving his backpedaling blocker, who ran into Hayne as the ball arrived. The 49ers recovered the muff.
Banjo also was right there on a kickoff return when Bruce Ellington decided to being the ball out from eight yards deep in the end zone. Banjo helped linebacker Nate Palmer finish off Ellington at the 12-yard line, putting the 49ers in a field-position hole.
“Our whole kickoff team was playing hard and fast, and when that happens, somebody is bound to beat a block and get to the ball,” Banjo said. “We’re always competing against each other just to help our team get to the highest level.”
Banjo’s competitive fire and perseverance have gotten him where he is. Undersized at 5-10, he made the roster as an undrafted rookie in 2013 and finished second on the team with 10 special teams tackles.
Last year, he was released but brought back onto the practice squad, and he eventually returned to the active roster down the stretch, recording six coverage tackles in the final five games (playoffs included).
This year, he made the roster out of training camp again and is considered a special teams veteran and leader on Green Bay’s continually improving units.
“I try to,” he said of showing leadership. “I try to bring as much as I possibly can to our special teams unit.
“I just take pride in preparing myself as a professional in whatever opportunity I have presented to me, whether that’s special teams or defense.”
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