Green Bay Packers safety Darnell Savage has been much more consistent this summer, but the key for him and the safety group as a whole will be continuing the consistency during the regular season.
Even with training camp and the preseason now behind us, there aren’t a lot of certainties that we can speak to when discussing the safety position. Really all we know right now is that Savage — as long as he’s healthy — will be starting Week 1 in Chicago. It also looks like Rudy Ford will be next to him, but even that hasn’t been made official. Beyond those two things, this position group is an enigma.
Savage is coming off a very rocky 2022 season that was plagued by missed tackles, miscommunications, and coverage breakdowns, all of which eventually resulted in him being benched at one point. Tackling has never been a strong suit of Savage’s but on the coverage side of things, by his own admission, he was trying to do too much at times, resulting in him voiding his responsibilities and big plays for the offense.
“I think my biggest downfall,” Savage said late last season, “is I feel like I can make every play. When I’m not making every play, I get frustrated. As any competitor, you get frustrated, you can’t really focus on the task at hand.”
Savage was able to find some success last season playing from the slot, but that isn’t going to be what he’s asked to do in 2023–or at least not right away. He is going to have to fill that traditional deep safety role instead.
On a few occasions this summer, Matt LaFleur has praised Savage for the approach he has taken, whether on the field or off, throughout the course of OTAs, minicamp, and training camp, which has resulted in much more consistent play from him.
“I think he’s had a really nice camp,” said LaFleur. “He’s attacking it the right way on a daily basis. He’s been much more consistent, I would say, throughout the course of it. He’s got to maintain that because the one thing I know about this league is as soon as you relax for one second, your play slips or somebody is bypassing you.
“So you got to have that mentality on a daily basis and I think that’s what he’s had throughout the course of, when he was here during OTAs, throughout training camp, and in his limited snaps he’s had throughout the course of the preseason.”
With 4.36 speed, Savage has playmaking ability, and we’ve seen it here and there throughout his career. However, as Joe Barry discussed earlier this offseason, what he is really searching for right now at this position, in particular, is consistency—something that was very much missing last season.
Consistency begins with Savage trusting himself and what he’s seeing. It also includes communicating effectively with the rest of the secondary pre-snap, being a sound tacker, and positioned correctly based on the defensive call. If Savage can do those aspects correctly, and do so consistently, then he’s going to be in a better position more often to make those splash plays we know he is capable of.
“I think Darnell is best when he pulls the trigger and let’s it all hang out,” said defensive backs coach Ryan Downard. “I’ve had that talk with him. If you watch his Maryland tape, he was going to get it. He’s got to trust himself. We have to do a better job of tackling and playing a physical brand of football. That’s not only at the point of contact, but that’s taking on blocks.”
Once again, this is a Packers defense that has some higher expectations to live up to, but on paper anyways, the safety position is potentially the weak link. It’s hard to envision a scenario where this position group is playing well that doesn’t include Savage leading the way. A bounce-back season is a must for him and this Packers secondary, and it all starts with down-to-down consistency.