All die-hard NFL fans get excited (or upset) when they finally get a chance to learn who their team has drafted each spring. However, most draft picks will only have a small effect on a team in their rookie season, and their biggest impact doesn't usually start to take place until their 2nd or 3rd season. With that in mind, we're going to take look at a specific performance of some young Green Bay Packers players from the 2013 season that fans and the organization alike expect and hope will take a step forward in 2014. First up, Micah Hyde!
Why Mr. Hyde? Partially because he is expected to (hopefully?!) take the biggest leap from rookie to 2nd year player (I think it's safe to say Eddie Lacy and David Bakhtiari set their bars so high that most fans would be happy if they made even a modest improvement). Also, as an Iowa Hawkeye fan, I’ll admit to some historical bias!
Micah Hyde came to the Packers as a very well-regarded cornerback prospect out of college (Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year his senior year), but not a highly drafted player. He had good athleticism, but wasn't considered to be a can’t-miss starter. Luckily for him, he came from a college program known for their solid fundamental coaching, and he was drafted by an organization that had a good young stable of cornerbacks. Fortunately, he wouldn't be asked to do too much too soon. Of course there was talk right away of moving him to safety, but we will address that situation more in-depth towards the end of the article.
For now, let's get to the action. We're going to take a look at some of Hyde's plays in the Oct. 13th game versus Baltimore, which was his coming out party as a defensive player. He finished the day with 7 total tackles, his first (and only) sack, and 5 punt returns for 68 yards. Later games would have splashier plays (the punt return TD at Minnesota, the long return at Pittsburgh), but this was the high-water mark for him in terms of number of tackles.
The 2nd quarter Hyde began to make his mark on this game....
- At the end of a long drive, Baltimore decide to go for it on 4th and Goal at the 1. Hyde and former Hawkeye teammate Mike Daniels combined to stuff Baltimore RB Bernard Pierce for no gain. Before the play began, Hyde was lined up opposite Baltimore's Dallas Clark, whom he followed across the formation. At the snap, Hyde easily shed the block attempt to help clean up the tackle with Daniels. Reviewing the play, A.J. Hawk made it possible by blowing up the fullback Jamari Lattimore. and probably should have gotten partial tackle credit. Other Packers were in position as well. This definitely was a complete defensive win for the Packers, but there is no denying that Hyde was in the center of the action. He showed good athleticism by quickly shedding his block and getting to the ball carrier.
- On the next Raven’s drive, Baltimore's Pierce got a 5 yard gain before Hyde ran him down. However, Hyde started on the far side of the formation from the run, and showed good speed, tracking the play completely across the field (including blowing by Baltimore's Billy Bajema’s attempted block). This was a good example of his quick-burst ability to close on a ball-carrier.
- - Late in the second quarter, Hyde was finally able to get a good chance at a punt return, taking the ball on the run and showing good, quick lateral moves as he wound his way 23 yards to mid-field. Most of the run was simple athleticism and a quick burst without trying to do too much.
- In the third quarter, Hyde really made his mark. He got his one sack of the year in a big spot, actually forcing a fumble that Baltimore happened to recover. He lined up across from the slot receiver and, along with Andy Mulumba, blitzed at the snap. The blitz worked to perfection, with Mulumba drawing a block and Hyde racing free to the quarterback. Joe Flacco had his head turned looking downfield, obviously unaware of the blitz, and Hyde laid a perfect hit on him, jarring the ball loose on a perfect form tackle.
- On the resulting play, Hyde makes another big contribution, taking the punt for a 20 yard return to the Baltimore 34. Again, he didn’t try to do too much, simply moving forward as quickly as possible with a little dodging and weaving to gain extra yards without putting the ball in a dangerous position.
- Later in the third, the Baltimore punter got off a monster 61 yard punt. Probably his best of the day, forcing Hyde to back up in order to make the catch. He was able to gain 16 yards on the return. Once again, Hyde simply moved straight up field without trying anything too flashy (anyone sensing a theme?).
- After one of Baltimore’s biggest plays of the day, a 59 yard catch and run down to the Packer’s 11 yard line, Hyde had another big play on a 2nd & 5 from the 6. He lined up over the inside/slot receiver, but at the snap his receiver broke to the outside. Instead of turning and following, Hyde settled down and saw the outside receiver running back inside along the line of scrimmage. The pass was quick and on target. But before the receiver could get fully turned upfield, Hyde was there with another perfect tackle, only giving up one yard on the play. He played the pass so well, in fact, that it makes me think he was either playing some sort of zone, or that the play was a favorite of Baltimore’s and he had been coached on that very possibility (or both). Either way, it was a huge play, as an incompletion on the next play forced Baltimore to settle for a field goal.
- Still in the third quarter, Hyde lined up on the slot receiver. Once again he blitzed on the snap. He was not fooled by the fake handoff to Pierce, and easily avoided the weak block the running backtried to throw. Hyde made a half-step to Flacco before accelerating past him to tackle the ballcarrier. This play was really made by Mike Neal, who kept containment. And while he missed on the tackle for a bigger loss, turned the ball carrier back inside where Hyde was the first of many waiting Packers. While this is another example of Hyde being the first of many players ready to make the tackle, the fact that it kept happening over and over again speaks to his speed, awareness, and good fundamental tackling.
Those were the plays that Micah Hyde made a large impact on during the game. Looking back at that game as a whole, the Green Bay offense sputtered, settling for only one touchdown and 4 field goals on the day, and was unable to take advantage of some good starting field position. On the other hand, the Green Bay Defense, while maligned for most of the season, actually did more than their share of the work that game. They kept Baltimore scoreless until the 2nd half, and then kept them out of the endzone until the 4th quarter. They did wear down a bit in the 4th and Baltimore was able to get within 2 points late, but the Packer offense held onto the ball at the end of the game and ran out the clock for the victory.
Specifically looking at Mr. Hyde, as we mentioned at the top, this was probably not the game that most fans will remember him for, outside of the sack. He did not have a lot of flashy plays, but it was the most tackles he would rack up in a single game. This also showcased why Coach McCarthy has talked about getting him more playing time in 2014…
- First of all, his vision and instincts. Hyde seems to be able to see the ball well in traffic, as evidenced by his play on the end-around in the 3rd quarter, and he also seems to know where the ball is going to be (which could be attributed to instincts, coaching, or both), as evidenced by the two plays on the goal line where he ended up being in perfect position both times.
- Also, he shows a knack for big plays at crucial moments. He had two tackles on the goal line versus Baltimore, with both drives ending with field goals instead of touchdowns. He also had the big sack on a 3rd and 10, forcing a fumble.
- He has deceptive speed and athleticism, something that was mentioned during his college days. But also something he has never seemed to get a lot of credit for.
- Finally, he appears to be very coachable, a good tackler and a smart player who is willing to make a bunch of safe, positive plays than to risk it all on a flashy play that could fail spectacularly. Has he had those plays in the past? Of course. Will they happen again? Almost certainly. But his track record to this point makes him the type of player that coaches like Kirk Ferentz of Iowa and Mike McCarthy both seem to like - not a superstar, but someone who can do more than you expect, and probably won’t hurt the team in the process.
So, does Hyde have the ability to lock up the 3rd cornerback position this year? I think so, especially with his ability to rush the passer and cause havoc in the backfield. Can he slide over to safety and challenge rookie Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix for a starting spot there? Possibly. I am more pessimistic than most, but that probably has more to do with seeing him play safety for a few games at Iowa, which frankly was pretty ugly, especially against Iowa State. He does have the speed and athleticism to play safety. He’s not small, and he’s smart. With good coaching he could become a good option at safety, but I tend to think that Clinton-Dix’s experience at the position may end up giving him the edge over Hyde’s experience with the defense. Ideally, I think keeping Hyde at the slot gives the Packers a great weapon to attack the backfield, similar to Charles Woodson in his heyday.