Nearly a week ago, GM Brian Gutekunst said that, at that time, no one had truly emerged and set themselves apart from the rest for that starting spot. And while nothing is set in stone at this time, there does appear to at least be a front runner.
“I think we’ve got a pretty good indication,” said Matt LaFleur when asked about that second starting spot on Thursday. “But there is still more football in front of us. We’ve got, obviously, a practice today, and a game.”
As LaFleur said was going to happen at the beginning of training camp, there has been a heavy rotation at this position, with Rudy Ford first spending time with the starters at the start of camp, followed by Jonathan Owens, along with Tarvarius Moore and Anthony Johnson being worked in as well and seeing some snaps with the ones.
However, over the last week, things have come full circle, with Ford back in that starting role, where he spent all of offseason programs and the first week or so of training camp. Perhaps this is all part of the Packers plan at the position to continually rotate players in order to give them opportunities. But also, with the preseason winding down and the regular season near, this also could be a sign that Ford is going to be starting come Week 1.
“He’s done a nice job,” said LaFleur about Ford. “He’s going out there and executing his responsibility. He’s being physical and trusting what he’s seeing and playing fast. He’s done a really nice job.
“Communication is a really big part of that position and making sure that everyone is one the same page. I think he’s handled that pretty well. Hopefully, he can put together another good practice today and go out there and compete in the game at a high level.”
When called upon during the second half of last season, Ford gave the Packers some much-needed stability at the position. He proved to be a willing run defender, and capable tackler, ranking 19th among all safeties in PFF’s run-stop rate metric.
Being able to defend the run is a very vital part to playing safety in Joe Barry’s defense. With the frequency at which he uses light boxes, being a sound tackler, taking on blockers, and filling gaps are key responsibilities of playing this position in this scheme.
It sounds simple, but Ford also did what was asked of him. As LaFleur mentioned, he’s been a good communicator with the back-end of the defense pre-snap, and was where he was supposed to be, which resulted in him flashing some playmaking ability with four takeaways last season. For a position group that too often dealt with miscommunications and coverage breakdowns, Ford provided some reliability.
As Barry has discussed on a few occasions this offseason, ultimately what the team is looking for at the safety position right now is consistency, from day-to-day and down-to-down.
Whether it’s Ford or any of the other safeties on the roster playing next to Savage in Week 1, the Packers are going to remain flexible with that role, willing to make changes depending on what takes place in the game as well as during the week in practice. However, for now, Ford seems to be the favorite.
“It could be pretty fluid throughout the course of the year,” added LaFleur. “You never want to say ‘hey, this is it.’ Guys are going to compete, continue to learn and grow. Hopefully it’s a competitive situation throughout the course of the season. As soon as you get complacent, somebody is going to pass you by.”