GREEN BAY — It was one of the biggest days of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s life. Now if only he could talk to somebody about it.
On the heels of being selected to his first Pro Bowl, Clinton-Dix was celebrating his 24th birthday on Wednesday when he was informed that he’d also been named NFC Defensive Player of the Week following his two-interception game against Chicago.
Clinton-Dix was overjoyed, but there was one small technical issue that stood in the way.
“My phone had just broken that morning as soon as I got to work, so I couldn’t reply to my mom and couldn’t respond to anybody until I got my phone fixed at 5 (p.m. Wednesday),” said Clinton-Dix on Thursday. “It still hasn’t really sunk it. It’s definitely a dream come true.”
He was able to make one quick celebratory call with help from safety Morgan Burnett, who lent him his phone. In a way, the moment reflected how the veteran safety and position coach Darren Perry have helped Clinton-Dix get to this point in this career.
When asked about the accolades, the former first-round pick quickly credited a lot of his early success to the time he’s spent with Perry and Burnett over the past three seasons.
Upon the team finding out Clinton-Dix’s Pro Bowl selection, it was left to Perry to deliver the good news to his pupil, a gesture the third-year safety appreciated.
“I owe a lot to Darren Perry,” Clinton-Dix said. “I don’t think I’d be this far, this early if it wasn’t for him pushing me to run an extra second or showing me a play on film, and telling me when I see it, that’s the green light to go do it and don’t be afraid to take that next step and take chances. That’s what the game is about.”
Burnett, a seven-year veteran, handled a lot of the checks and communication in the secondary during Clinton-Dix’s rookie season, but as the young safety’s experience grew, the two have worked interchangeably and developed into one of the top safety pairings in the NFL.
The talent always has been there for Clinton-Dix, but both he and Perry agree the young safety is acting more on his instincts this year. He’s also improved his tackling, reducing his missed tackles from double-digits as a rookie to significantly less the past two seasons.
Those experiences have given him greater confidence, which has enabled him to trust what he sees and take more calculated risks. His big-play production has skyrocketed this year with five interceptions, tied for the NFL lead among safeties.
“I think the thing you probably see now compared to his first couple years is he’s not afraid to make a mistake,” Perry said. “If he sees something with his eyes out there on the field, he’s going to trust it and he’s going to go with it. He’s not going to be right every time but he’s going to be more right than he is wrong.”
Following his two interceptions in last Sunday’s 30-27 win over Chicago, Perry told Clinton-Dix he now wants to see him return an interception for a touchdown. He’s returned his five picks for 75 yards with a season long of 27 against the Bears.
The Packers’ defense is still looking for its first touchdown off a takeaway this season. Its last came on Damarious Randall’s 43-yard interception returned for a touchdown against Oakland last December.
While both of Clinton-Dix’s interceptions against the Bears were brilliant reads of the quarterback, Perry still gave him a little grief in the film room. A former high-school running back, Clinton-Dix received a little playful criticism of his running skills.
“That’s what he says. I don’t know if any of the guys believe that,” said Perry with a laugh. “I told him, ‘Ha, you’ve had some opportunities now and you don’t look too swift.’”
All kidding aside, Perry couldn’t think of a more deserving player to get the honor. Since Clinton-Dix was drafted, he’s impressed the teammates and coaches with his maturity, work ethic and competitive spirit.
His enthusiasm for football has been infectious in the locker room. What impresses Perry is Clinton-Dix can hold a conversion as easily with Julius Peppers as he does with an undrafted rookie like Makinton Dorleant.
Now that his phone is fixed, Clinton-Dix can also relish in the success with his loved ones, many of whom were in town last weekend. He and about 20 family members actually exchanged Christmas presents hours after his two picks against the Bears.
“I’m still behind right now,” Clinton-Dix said. “I still owe everybody ‘Thank yous.’ It hasn’t really caught up to me yet.”
Clinton-Dix wasn’t the Packers’ only first-time Pro Bowler. Veteran guard T.J. Lang also earned a selection after being an alternate in each of the past two NFL seasons.
The honor surprised Lang, who has battled hip and foot injuries this year. He felt the 2015 season might have been his finest campaign and “lost hope a little bit” after he was left out.
Lang kept his expectations modest this year, which made the moment even more special when he was informed around 4 p.m. on Tuesday that he’d finally made the prestigious team.
“It was definitely a huge surprise,” Lang said. “As a player, you obviously have team goals that come first, but everybody has personal goals and I think to be named to a Pro Bowl is definitely on everybody’s list. It’s definitely been on mine for a long time now.”