Davon House's return amps up Green Bay Packers' secondary competition in OTAs

By The Sports Xchange  |  May 24, 2017 at 12:29 PM
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GREEN BAY -- Plenty has changed since Davon House last played for the Green Bay Packers on Jan. 18, 2015.

Fellow defensive backs Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Casey Hayward and Micah Hyde no longer are with the team, as they all were when the Packers suffered the forgettable 28-22 overtime loss at the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship during the 2014 season.

As House returned to the Packers this year after what turned out to be a two-season getaway in Florida with the Jacksonville Jaguars, the once-former understudy to those aforementioned mentors has been entrusted as a leader in the secondary.

"From when I was here before, we had Sam and Tramon, so they were THE guys," House said Tuesday. "Now, I'm in the role where I'm going out there every time they call the 1s. I'm the first one doing the reps and the drills. I'm the example, I guess you could say."

Only 27 years old, the seventh-year pro has embraced his newfound role as the dean of Green Bay's defensive backs.

No matter in what direction House looks while he's on the field this spring in drills for the defensive backs, in the group's meeting room and its section in the locker room at Lambeau Field, he is unequivocally surrounded by a youthful cast. Demetri Goodson, a fourth-year pro who also is 27, is the only other DB who has logged more than three seasons in the NFL.

"I think it's easy to give leadership because all I'm going to do is teach them what the vets taught me," said House, reflecting on his first stint in Green Bay, when his esteemed collection of tutors also included future Pro Football Hall of Famer Charles Woodson.

The return of House to the Packers, who signed him to a one-year, $2.8 million contract after the Jaguars cut him in early March, is part of a substantial overhaul of the back end of the defense this offseason.

Green Bay previously cut Shields, the onetime top cornerback who missed all but one game last season because of a recurring concussion, and versatile contributor Hyde wasn't re-signed as a free agent.

Instead, the Packers have begun to reshape what was their weakest link last season around House, the incumbent safety duo of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett and the arrival of rookies Kevin King and Josh Jones.

"It's very versatile," said House, giving his assessment of the secondary two days into Green Bay's organized team activities.

The Packers won't have their full complement of defensive backs until minicamp, which is June 13-15.

That's because King, the team's top draft pick who went first in the second round at No. 33 overall, can't participate in OTAs with his college (Washington) still in session for classes this spring.

King is expected to step right in as a starter as Green Bay tries to remedy its pass-challenged defense. The Packers ranked 31st in the 32-team league last season, allowing an average of 269.3 net passing yards.

Things only got worse in the NFC Championship in January, when the Atlanta Falcons torched Green Bay's injury-riddled and confused secondary for 392 yards and four touchdowns through the air from Matt Ryan in a 44-21 rout.

Head coach Mike McCarthy is adamant this spring for the Packers to pass the football liberally as a way to help the defense as much as it is to keep Aaron Rodgers and his long list of receivers sharp.

"We're really focused on the passing game," McCarthy said.

He noted Tuesday that the number of run plays has been cut in OTAs by 6 to 10 percent from the previous year.

Besides the urgency to get the defensive backs more reps in tracking the football, McCarthy said the spring practices with players not in pads and full contact off-limits softens the need to run the ball even with a revamped backfield this year.

"The practice environment with the helmets and the shorts and the rules in place, the run-game production is minimal, as far as the quality of work," McCarthy said. "The quality of work is definitely higher in the environment of throwing the football. So, we're just taking a little more advantage of that."

House, for one, likes the extra work defending the pass. He lined up in Tuesday's OTA session as a starter on the outside opposite LaDarius Gunter, a third-year pro who started all but one game last season with Shields sidelined.

The Packers also worked in underachieving Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins as the nickel back and featured Clinton-Dix, Burnett, Kentrell Brice and the intriguing Jones at safety. Burnett and the speedy Jones, also a second-round draft pick this year, have been getting some hybrid work at linebacker early on in the OTAs.

"It's a little bit of everything," House said of the varied assignments playing the secondary in the Green Bay defense. "This is like a DB's dream - to come here and to play football."

Saying he's "a lot more confident" in his second go-around with the Packers than he was his first four years with the team, House is ready to lead the defensive backs by example and with production.

"My first year in Jacksonville (in 2015), I was able to do what I know I can do," House said. "I had 25 pass breakups with four picks, which is pretty darn good, and that's what I expect to do here again as a full-time starter."

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