GREEN BAY — While he wasn’t on the field, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was always connected to the Green Bay Packers defense — technologically. He had access to the playbook and film of each and every one of the organized team activity practices he missed, and his coaches were always an iMessage message away if he had any questions.
“I had my iPad, all the time,” the veteran safety said after Tuesday’s minicamp practice — his first practice of the spring after he skipped the voluntary OTA practices during Phase III of the offseason program. “Anytime I needed anything, they were right there to text me back or sent me the clip I needed to catch up on. It wasn’t a problem at all. … I watched every single practice. So I didn’t miss a beat.
“I’m perfect. I’m right where I need to be at.”
Now, Clinton-Dix is hoping new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s scheme will put him right where he believes he needs to be at: closer to the action and in position more often to make plays, after spending much of last season deep and off the line of scrimmage.
“I know my value to this defense, and it’s up to you all to see. I guess we’ll see when we play Chicago (in the Sept. 9 season opener) and on from there,” said Clinton-Dix, who went to his first Pro Bowl in 2016 but had less of an impact last season, when he finished with 86 tackles, three interceptions and 10 pass break-ups. “I’m excited about this opportunity I have in front of me right now going into my fifth year. Like I said, the sky’s the limit for me. Just watch, just watch.”
“I’ll definitely be a lot more free in this defense for sure. We’ve got to see what it looks like come game day. We can talk about it now, but game day we’ll be talking about some totally different (stuff). We’ve just got to all wait and see how it plays out. But I’m excited about the new defense, I’m loving it right now. I’m loving it.”
While Clinton-Dix joked multiple times about not having to play catch-up — “I like ketchup a lot ... I like it on my hot dogs, my hamburgers, my fries,” he said — he said his focus for minicamp after the missed OTA practices is “really just kind of getting on the same page with the guys. And the more reps I get, the more comfortable I’ll get and I’ll be fine.”
Coach Mike McCarthy said he wasn’t concerned about Clinton-Dix’s absence, especially since he attended most of Phase I and II of the program.
“I (felt) really good (about) Ha Ha all the way through,” McCarthy said. “We’ve had change, we’ve transitioned through that. We’re really coming to the end of the offseason where communication’s been tight, it’s been good.”
Getting his kicks
Rookie punter JK Scott hit the ball extremely well during practice, crushing several deep punts with lengthy hang-times. Unofficially, the fifth-round pick from Alabama averaged 4.68 seconds of hang time on his dozen or so punts.
“There’s always things you have to think about to get better. Because Coach (Nick) Saban would always say — I know I’m not at Alabama anymore, but he used to say, ‘If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse,’” Scott said following practice. “Today, there was a couple things I need to focus on to get better, to improve on some things. But today definitely was a good day.”
The Packers released incumbent punter Justin Vogel after drafting Scott, but so far, the inconsistency of seventh-round long-snapper Hunter Bradley has been a bigger issue than Scott’s kicking.
“There’s no question he’s got a big gift there in his leg,” special teams coordinator Ron Zook said. “He has been, for the most part, pretty consistent. I like his attitude.”
As he has the past two years, McCarthy excused the veteran players with five or more years of NFL experience under their belts. That meant 16 players — starting with Aaron Rodgers, in his 14th season — were allowed to miss the minicamp. Sixth-year offensive linemen David Bakhtiari and Lane Taylor were the last veterans to make the list.
“There’s only so many reps that you can accomplish throughout the offseason. So (we) really focused on the veterans there through the OTAs and now the focus will be exclusively for our young players,” McCarthy explained. “So this is a huge opportunity. And it’s really the same message I gave the players this morning and last Thursday: We’ve got to take a jump as a football team. You see it every year, young guys start to figure it out. … This is a great opportunity for our young players.”
The biggest opportunity was for quarterbacks DeShone Kizer and Brett Hundley, who got extra work with Rodgers excused.
Hundley threw a 22-yard TD pass to Equanimeous St. Brown during the first 2-minute drill, while Kizer followed that with a 44-yard deep ball to ex-UW-Whitewater receiver Jake Kumerow on the next 2-minute series.
“It’s great. Any time you get an opportunity to practice, it’s an opportunity to get better,” quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti Jr. said. “These three days are a great opportunity for (them).”
General manager Brian Gutekunst added veteran scout Lee Gissendaner to his staff. Gissendaner, who worked in the Packers’ scouting department from 1998 through 2015, has the title of “personnel executive.” He spent the past three years as a national scout for the New York Jets. … New to the Packers’ injury report were safety Josh Jones (ankle), inside linebacker Jake Ryan (hamstring), outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell (hamstring) and wide receiver Geronimo Allison (ankle). … Wide receiver Trevor Davis, who had returned to practice during the last week of OTAs, was back on the sideline because of his hamstring injury. … Third-year tackles Jason Spriggs (knee) and Kyle Murphy (foot), who had not been taking part in 11-on-11 periods of late as they come back from last year’s season-ending injuries, worked as the starting tackles with the No. 1 offense.