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Packers get their pick in Clinton-Dix

The Sports Xchange

With former Alabama teammate Eddie Lacy in on the act, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix had a little fun in advance of the 2014 NFL Draft.

He posted a selfie on Instagram wearing a Packers T-shirt.

“It looked pretty good on me, so I just decided to put it on,” Clinton-Dix would say late Thursday night, adding with a big laugh about the attention the photo garnered on social media, “It kind of blew up.”

The choice of team apparel couldn’t have worked out any better for Clinton-Dix. The newest member of the Packers proudly held a new green jersey with Clinton-Dix already imprinted on it, meshing nicely with the resplendent wardrobe of a red jacket and a black bowtie he wore to the first night of the draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York.

“It fit very well for us, yes,” general manager Ted Thompson said of his selection of the Alabama safety with the No. 21 pick in Round 1.

The arrival of the two-time All-American is the latest big development this offseason in the reshaping of a Packers defense that again languished last season.

Green Bay’s woes stemmed in part from a shoddy safety group that didn’t have an interception, didn’t force one fumble and had all of one sack in 17 games, including another quick exit in the playoffs.

“Well, we have to be better,” Packers safeties coach Darren Perry said of his crew Thursday. “Obviously, we weren’t good enough, and that starts right here with me and it starts with our coaching staff. We recognize that, and we don’t shy away from that. It’s going to be a great challenge. We will be better, no question in my mind, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Perry wouldn’t say Clinton-Dix was the top-rated safety on the Packers’ draft board — he was the second of four safeties taken in the opening round, after Louisville’s Calvin Pryor went to the New York Jets at No. 18.

But ...

“We liked him,” Perry asserted. “There’s a lot of talented people in the draft, you never know how this thing is going to play out. It’s not about one particular position, it’s about making yourself better as a football team, and we felt like we got that with Ha Ha.”

The famously reticent Thompson echoed the sentiment with a rare revelation about how things fell the Packers’ way 2 1/2 hours into the draft.

“When it came time for our pick, we felt like he was the best player on the board and most solid and most skilled,” Thompson said. “At the same time, we were looking to maybe add a safety if we could.”

In fact, Thompson may have been so set on acquiring Clinton-Dix that he turned down presumed trade offers to move out of the 21st spot, including with perhaps the Cleveland Browns, who jumped up to No. 22 to grab Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

“We talked to a number of teams,” a smiling Thompson said.

Clinton-Dix is the first safety selected by the Packers in the first round since converted cornerback Antuan Edwards went at No. 25 in 1999.

The highest Green Bay draft pick of a safety since then was Nick Collins in the second round at No. 51 overall in 2005.

How the Packers would love for Clinton-Dix to jump right in next season and be the dependable and eventually playmaking safety Collins was as a starter his rookie season in what turned out to be a productive career cut short by a neck injury two games into the 2011 season.

“I think he’s a real all-purpose kind of safety,” Thompson said of Clinton-Dix.

“He’s got the versatility that you look for at the safety position,” Perry added. “He can play in the deep zone, he can play in the line of scrimmage, he’s tough, he’s plenty smart, his football IQ is where you like it to be with a guy that you take at his position.”

And, Perry has no qualms about the physical makeup of the 6-foot-1, 208-pound Clinton-Dix, who is 21 and turned pro after his junior year at Alabama.

“He’s got a really good frame on him right now,” Perry said. “He’s plenty fast, plenty physical, has the range, has the flexibility that you look for. But, so much of it is going to depend on how well and how fast he comes in and picks up things, how well he does some of the little things in terms of tackling, communicating and so forth because we put a premium on those things and he’s going to have to be really good at that.”

Even Thompson brushed off a perceived lack of burst by Clinton-Dix, who ran the 40-yard dash in just 4.59 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine in February.

“It’s not our time,” Thompson scoffed. “He plays the game well.”

Clinton-Dix stood out with seven interceptions his last two seasons with Alabama. He had a Southeastern Conference-leading five interceptions and a forced fumble in the Crimson Tide’s national title-winning 2012 season.

With an eye on pairing Clinton-Dix in the starting lineup with Morgan Burnett, who struggled without a quality running mate at safety last season, Thompson is hoping taking a player from powerhouse Alabama early in the draft for the second straight year pays big dividends again. Lacy, a second-round pick last year, settled Green Bay’s shaky situation at running back by rushing for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns to earn NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

“We think (Clinton-Dix has) very good upside,” Thompson said. “We had good success with a Crimson Tide kid we took last year, and we feel like this is a really good football player and we felt fortunate that he was there available.”

After looking to upgrade the pass rush by signing veteran defensive end Julius Peppers after he was cut by the rival Chicago Bears in March, Thompson undoubtedly was moved to fill the big void left at safety after Charles Woodson was cut early last offseason.

No Packer last season wore the No. 21 Woodson donned for seven years in Green Bay, but it quickly was assigned by the team to Clinton-Dix on Thursday night.

“It’s a good number to have, so I’m going to wear it with pride,” Clinton-Dix said.