Originally Published: January 19, 2017 6:02 a.m.
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Micah Hyde, the Green Bay Packers’ jack-of-all-trades in the secondary, is assuming another new role this season — playoff playmaker.
He is listed as a safety on the Packers roster, but really plays more of a slot cornerback role, at least when he’s not needed to fill in on the outside against receivers.
Whatever Hyde is called upon to do, the fourth-year defensive back out of Iowa has found a way to make an impact.
Versatility has become an asset in Green Bay, in part because of injuries, but also as a way to help keep up with prolific passing attacks such as the one the Packers will face in Atlanta in the NFC title game on Sunday against the Falcons.
“Versatility for playmakers, definitely it’s at a premium,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “You look at just the way the league is, the spread wide-open offenses, you definitely want to have to same counter-balance to that defensively.”
The closest multipurpose player with similar impact for the Falcons might be Ben Garland, a backup offensive lineman who also plays defense.
He had the biggest play of his career last week against Seattle, when he was credited with a safety in the second quarter of the 36-20 win in the divisional round.
Switched recently to offense, Garland has more experience on defense, actually, in his career. It’s what he played in college at Air Force, and during his first NFL stint with the Denver Broncos. It’s what makes his big play in the Seahawks game so sweet.
“It’s a ton of work, a ton of film study, a ton of study in the playbooks,” Garland said. “I love the opportunity. Shoot, I get the opportunity to play two-way in the NFL, or three-way with special teams too.”
But few players may be as valuable to their teams in multiple roles as Hyde. Against Dallas last week , Hyde had four tackles, a sack and an 18-yard interception after jumping in front of a short pass intended for receiver Dez Bryant in the slot.
In the regular-season finale against Detroit, Hyde held up well after he was forced to play outside cornerback in the fourth quarter after injuries whittled depth.
In Week 15 against Chicago with the Packers clinging to a six-point lead, Hyde broke up a pass at the goal line intended for Cameron Meredith on third-and-goal from the 4 to prevent a touchdown.
“You look back at his rookie year, started out as corner, moved into the nickel, has played safety,” McCarthy said on Wednesday.
“So not only to make that adjustment in the flow of a game without reps is something he’s been able to do, pretty much the last couple of years. I can’t just say enough about the flexibility he gives us a staff.”
They can be flexible with other players on defense, too. Safety Morgan Burnett, who missed practice on Wednesday with a quadriceps injury, has played an inside linebacker-like role against some teams, allowing the Packers to keep a strong defender on the field against the run while keeping the flexibility to match up against the pass.
The team’s star pass rusher, outside linebacker Clay Matthews, can move to inside linebacker and call defensive plays when needed. Datone Jones has moved between the defensive line and outside linebacker.
On offense, former receiver Ty Montgomery has embraced his return to running back, a position he played in high school, to help make up for the season-ending injury to starter Eddie Lacy in October. Montgomery is gradually picking up the nuances of the position, especially in pass protection, at NFL speed.
But Montgomery has shown flashes of being a consistent playmaker, including two rushing touchdowns last week against the Cowboys . It’s invaluable experience for a second-year player assuming a big postseason role for the first time in his career.
“Any type of playoff experience that you can get, whether it’s the NFC championship game or ... or any playoff, it’s good to have that experience under your belt” said Hyde, who was with the Packers two seasons ago for the loss in the NFC title game to Seattle.
“Because it is amped up in the playoffs, it really is, and you’ve got play mistake-free football.”