By Mark Eckel, Player Engagement Insider
Morgan Burnett thought back to his rookie year and remembered how easy he thought it was going to be.
Selected at the top of the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers, Burnett won the starting safety job in training camp, and then, although a knee injury ended his season, the Packers went on to win Super Bowl XLV, 31-25, over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“Coming in when I did it kind of spoiled you,’’ Burnett said. “We went to the Super Bowl and won. And we had a good team, so it was like ‘we’re going to go back every year.’ I remember hearing from some of the veterans and some coaches, ‘you better cherish this, because it’s tough.’ But I’m thinking we’re good, we’re going back.
“Then as the years go by, you start to realize how hard it is, how talented the league us, it’s really tough to get there. So when you do get the opportunity you have to seize it. I can see that now. As a young guy, you don’t always see it that way.’’
Burnett begins his seventh season with the Packers in 2016 and has become one of the game’s best, and most versatile, safeties. He’s now the veteran in a young Green Bay secondary. But he can still think back to that rookie year and his first training camp, coming to Green Bay after a good college career at Georgia Tech.
“That first training camp, really not knowing what to expect,’’ Burnett said. “You’re trying to put out a good first impression, not just for the coaches, but for the veterans on the team, too. You want to show them you belong.
“But it’s different that first year, because you’ve accomplished your dream of putting on that NFL uniform and then it all starts to soak in that you’re here. But it was a lot of fun, too.’’
Burnett won the starting job at safety as a rookie opposite Pro Bowl player Nick Collins, beating out another veteran, Charlie Peprah, for the job. Those two players were instrumental in the young player’s development.
“I was lucky enough to have Nick Collins and Charlie Peprah around to help me and teach me how to be a pro on and off the field,’’ Burnett said “That’s helped me out not just my first year, but throughout my career.
“Those guys helped me with everything, with the plays and the playbook. I mean you hear stories how the veterans don’t deal with rookies, don’t talk to rookies, but those guys were great. Anything I asked them about a particular play or a coverage, they were there for me to help. And then just simple things, like how to get around Green Bay, they were willing to help. They just made me feel comfortable.
“And then just leading by example, too. I watched the way they practiced, the way they worked in the weight room and learned a lot from that. I still keep in contact with those guys and they still think of me as their little brother.’’
Burnett has a “little brother’’ of his own now in third-year Packers’ safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. What Burnett learned from Collins and Peprah when he was a young player he’s passed on to the talented Clinton-Dix.
“Me and Sam (Shields, the Packers’ veteran cornerback) took the same approach with Ha Ha, because that’s how we were raised,’’ Burnett said. “You help the young guys and make them better and it’s making the team better. So I’ve tried to teach him the same things Nick and Charlie taught me, Hopefully, I’m doing a good job.’’