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Jennings, McMillian poised for battle at safety

Posted Jun 12, 2013

Packers turn to blend of youth and experience

GREEN BAY—One is a “centerfielder” who needs to become more of a hitter; the other is a hitter who doesn’t especially like that tag.

“I think you’re short-changing me. I do a lot. Hitting is just a part of my game,” Jerron McMillian said.

McMillian (pictured on right) and third-year man M.D. Jennings (left) will battle this summer for the starting safety job made vacant by the departure of Charles Woodson. It’ll be one of training camp’s high-profile competitions.

Jennings agreed with the assessment of his skills, and that he needs to “put on weight and get stronger.” He wrinkled his nose, however, at the mention of competition.

“You can’t look at it as a competition. You just have to put good things on film and let the decision up to the coaches,” he said.

Jennings came to the Packers as an undrafted free agent from Arkansas State in 2011. Jennings is one of five safeties from his days at Arkansas State that have made their way to the NFL.

“They were recruiting good guys. He knows safeties,” Jennings said of his former coach, Jack Curtis.

Jennings, however, is the most famous of them all, all because of one play in Seattle. He caught the ball. The world saw it, but the replacement officials missed it. It triggered a global reaction.

So, from the humble beginnings of an undrafted free agent trying to make it onto the roster of the defending Super Bowl champions, Jennings has advanced to a place of infamy in professional football, and now he wants to add to his resume the distinction of being a starter.

“It humbles you at first,” he said of having been one of the undrafted players that dress in an auxiliary locker room adjacent to the Packers’ main locker room at Lambeau Field. “You want to be out with the other guys. You know it’ll be one of those guys back there that’ll probably leave first.

“I still remember that day,” he said of the final cuts day when he learned he wasn’t one of the cuts. “It was a dream come true. I just dropped to my knees.”

McMillian was a fourth-round draft pick in 2012. He immediately showed promise as a physical, hard-tackling safety and special teams player. He would have to improve as a pass defender. McMillian believes he has, and now he’s positioned to compete for a job at a position that’s been in flux since Nick Collins’ sustained a career-ending injury in Week 2 of the 2011 season.

“It’s good competition. We’re trying to make each other better,” he said.

Obviously, the Packers believe the right man will emerge from the competition at safety. They neither signed a safety in free agency nor selected one in the draft.

“You learn from your past experiences. We’re a young team, but this is a young and experienced team. I like the blend,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said.

To that end, Jennings and McMillian each played in every game last season, with Jennings logging 10 starts and making one of the Packers’ most dramatic defensive plays of the season, a 72-yard touchdown return of an interception that went a long way toward the Packers’ win in Detroit.

More drama is likely this summer.

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