GREEN BAY – Morgan Burnett broke eye contact briefly, thinking back over his five-year career. He’s just 25, but the safety is one of the established veterans on a defensive unit that has 16 players with four or fewer years of experience.
Was there a moment when you didn’t know what was about to happen?
He smiled a little bit, but he wasn’t going to admit it.
Second-year running back Eddie Lacy would, though.
"I mean, you have those moments. It’s football," he said. "You have ‘em."
Burnett did allow that there will be times when there is confusion. An offense will often produce an "unscouted look," a formation, a personnel package, that the defense either did not scout during the week of preparation or anticipate in the game plan.
It can be a frustrating moment.
"That’s when you gotta rely on your technique," Burnett said. "Technique will get you through the down. Understanding the defense, knowing where you’re supposed to be. If you just use that going into the game – because you don’t want to go in trying to guess, because when you guess, that’s when you get out of position – so at the end of the day your technique is going to take you a long way."
Of course, that confusion is the point of an unscouted look – and part of the continual chess match between coaches during the week, and players on game day.
That unscouted look though, for as unwelcome as it might seem, is a chance for a player to sort of unleash himself, so to speak.
"I guess you could kind of say that (it’s backyard football)," Packers defensive back Micah Hyde said. "But at the same time, we have to be fundamental on our defense. We know what we can do in our defense, so when you get an unscouted look we have to play our defense and it will play out well. When that happens you have to trust everybody and hope for the best, I guess."
It’s a little different on the offensive side. There is only so much a defense can do, especially against a fast-moving offense such as the Packers.
As ninth-year fullback John Kuhn said, "You prepare for everything, so an unscouted look isn’t something we haven’t ever seen, it’s just something we might not have planned for that week."
It also helps having a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers, who at this stage in his 10-year career has little left to see when it comes do defensive fronts or coverages.
"Definitely," Lacy said with a laugh. "Even Kuhn. Kuhn definitely knows the whole offense. Whenever we’re both in there at the same time he ‘ll tell me things, what to look for, who to watch and things like that. Having those two guys definitely helps out a lot when you we’re in situations where it doesn’t look like what we practiced against. They’re able to get us all on the same page."
The players in the locker room inside Lambeau Field that they are trained to prepare for the unexpected, which is an oxymoron: How can one possibly be ready for something you have no idea even exists, or can happen?
"We base a lot of our stuff off what the corner on top of us does, or the safeties, if they’re playing over the top," Jordy Nelson said. "For us (wide receivers), there’s not too much of it on the outside. A lot of that is with fronts, blitzes and pressures like that that gives them a little more difficult look. There’s a few things they can do but our defense does a lot of stuff throughout training camp so we’ve seen just about anything and can adjust on the fly."
"No matter what they come out in, we have our general rules, our base rules that you can’t go wrong with," Lacy added. "Whether it’s an unscouted look or a scouted look we have to go out and execute."
Burnett smiles again.
He realizes that, really, you can’t prepare for such an unknown. What is means is having your mind and body ready fall back – in a moment’s notice – to solid fundamentals that have been drilled into you all offseason and in weeklong practices.
"That’s what practice is for, for you to work on your technique, work on your game, work on alerts so when you get in that situation there is no panic," Burnett said. "That’s the last thing you want to do is panic. When you know, you’ve got confidence in your technique, confidence in what you’re doing, you can be prepared for anything."
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.