GREEN BAY — Darnell Savage was reluctant Thursday to admit what was obvious to just about anyone who watched the second half of the Green Bay Packers safety’s rookie season last year.
He was not the same player he’d been before a Week 5 ankle injury in Dallas.
“I’m not going to use it as an excuse or anything like that. It’s something you’ve got to deal with,” Savage said during a Zoom video conference call with reporters in advance of the Packers’ first practice of training camp on Saturday. “In the game of football, injuries are going to happen. Sometimes, you’ve just got to battle them through them.
“Injuries, there are some that are severe and some that are moderate that you are able to push through. You’ve just got to find the best way to manage it and deal with it. I think I did a pretty good job with it being my first injury that I actually had to play with. Obviously, would’ve been a lot better if it never happened. But it did happen, so it is what it is. I learned from it.”
Savage took all kinds of lessons from 2019, when he was the second of the Packers’ two first-round draft picks and finished his first NFL season having registered 72 tackles, two tackles for a loss, two interceptions, a team-high two forced fumbles, seven pass break-ups, one quarterback hit and two QB pressures in 16 games (including playoffs).
Nevertheless, while the Packers’ higher first-round pick, outside linebacker Rashan Gary, was seeing limited action throughout last season. Savage was an opening day starter and was clearly starting to hit his stride when he suffered the ankle injury against the Cowboys just 19 snaps into the Packers’ Oct. 6 victory at Dallas.
He missed their wins over Detroit and Washington the next two weeks before returning to action at Kansas City on Oct. 27, and while his season was still a success — he was selected to the PFWA all-rookie team and is seen as a key to defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s scheme this season — he also struggled with consistency.
“He did some great things last year, and I think the more comfortable he is with our defense, the more detail-oriented he is, I think he’s going to make more plays,” Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said during a Zoom call later Thursday. “I’m really excited about how he’s attacked it on a daily basis. It just has to translate from the practice field and going out there on the game field on Sundays.”
Savage, who elected to spend most of his offseason in Green Bay, said he views his rookie year as a valuable learning experience.
“One thing I’m most proud of is how I handled the ups and downs through the season, the injuries and stuff like that. That’s tough sledding, especially with it being such a long season and as a rookie,” Savage said. “There’s a lot of takeaways you can take from the season, good and bad. (It’s about) really just learning and continuing to grow as a player. I feel like if you’re not learning and getting better every single that year you’re stepping on the field, then what are you doing it for?
“I’ve gotten better every year I’ve played football and every year I’ve done anything. I’m extremely excited for Year 2.”
One obvious area of improvement would be in his tackling, which has to become more consistent. According to Pro Football Focus, only one other NFL safety had a higher missed-tackle rate last season than Savage.
“I feel like sometimes I may have been a little hesitant (last season),” Savage said. “As long as I just trust the process and continue to get better and continue to watch film and continue to play in this league, I think a whole bunch of improvement.”
Minding their Ps and Qs?
While the most curious news of the day in the NFL was an NFL Network report that the Seattle Seahawks had cut rookie cornerback Kemah Siverand earlier this week after he was caught on video trying to sneak a female visitor into the team hotel disguised as a teammate, LaFleur said he has been pleased with how his players have handled the added responsibility of keeping their teammates safe and avoiding risky decisions that might bring COVID-19 into the locker room.
“I’ve gotten no indication that guys are being reckless out there,” LaFleur said. “I feel like we’ve really hammered home that message to make sure that they protect the team. I mean, that is a main rule of ours, is put the team first. And I’ve got a lot of trust in the guys we have in that locker room.
“We’ve got a lot of great character and I think our guys are going to go about the business the right way.”
There were no COVID-19 reserve list additions for the Packers on Thursday, according to the official NFL transaction wire, but the team also didn’t activate any of the five players who remain on that list. That means it’s possible kicker Mason Crosby, long-snapper Hunter Bradley, tight end Jace Sternberger, defensive tackle Treyvon Hester and outside linebacker Greg Roberts will miss Saturday’s practice as they await clearance. … LaFleur said Saturday morning’s first practice of camp — which, coincidentally, falls on the day that would have been the team’s preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals at Lambeau Field — will not look vastly different than a typical practice from offseason organized team activity practices before the novel coronavirus, which wiped out all offseason workouts. “I think it will have a normal feel, just like your typical OTA practices where it’s just your helmets,” LaFleur said. … LaFleur said he has targeted the team’s third or fourth practice for being the first in-pads session, meaning the players will don pads on Wednesday or Thursday for the first time since their NFC Championship Game loss at San Francisco on Jan. 19.