Former Tide star Clinton-Dix continues to shine in NFL
By Tim Gayle
Three years ago, former Alabama star Ha Ha Clinton-Dix went through a learning experience with the Green Bay Packers, missing a team-high 16 tackles in his rookie season.
This past season, he made 80 tackles (while missing just three), pulled in five interceptions, earned a trip to the Pro Bowl and got the Packers to pick up his fifth-year option to keep him under contract until 2018.
Once considered the new kid on the block, Clinton-Dix is one of the veterans on the Green Bay defense as it attempts to take the next step and return to the Super Bowl.
“It’s going to be a great year coming up for us,” he said. “We’ve got a challenge coming up, playing a great schedule, but I think we’re up for the challenge. I think it’s going to be a great year for us.”
Clinton-Dix was in Montgomery recently, serving as an instructor at a free football camp in Cramton Bowl conducted by teammate Ladarius Gunter.
Once considered a risk – he is only the second safety ever in the storied history of the Packers to be drafted in the first round after George Teague in 1993 – Clinton-Dix is now a sure thing after playing in all 1,029 regular-season snaps by Packer opponents in 2016.
When he came into the league in 2014, he was the missing link in a Green Bay secondary that included fellow safety Morgan Burnett, backup Micah Hyde and cornerbacks Tramon Williams, Sam Shields and Casey Hayward. In three short years, much of the secondary has been overhauled and now it is All-Pro Clinton-Dix who is the star, working alongside Burnett.
Shields retired and Hyde went to the Bills in the offseason, leaving Clinton-Dix and Burnett to serve as mentors to a young group of up-and-coming cornerbacks including Gunter, Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins and heralded draft pick Kevin King of Washington.
“I think it’ll affect us in a great way,” Clinton-Dix said. “(General manager) Ted (Thompson) did a great job in the draft this year. We’ve got a lot of great assets to this team that will help contribute and make plays this year. We have great leaders on our team and I’m excited about the upcoming season.”
The Packers struggled at times defensively during 2016, with Gunter being forced into a starting role at corner and Hyde moving from safety to corner because of injuries. But Green Bay caught fire late in the season and reached the NFL Championship Game before losing to Atlanta.
“Hats off to Atlanta, they had a great season and we just fell short,” Clinton-Dix said. “We definitely are going to build off that and keeping moving.”
As a member of the Packer secondary, Clinton-Dix often has to defend against some of the best receivers in the National Football League and that includes Julio Jones, the former Crimson Tide receiver who entered the draft a couple of months before Clinton-Dix arrived on campus.
“He’s an unbelievable guy,” Clinton-Dix said. “He’s a great wide receiver. If you ask me, he’s the best wide receiver in this game, hands down. He’s just a great competitor. He came from Alabama, so I’ve got to respect that.”
A consensus All-American at Alabama as a junior in 2013, Clinton-Dix turned some heads this spring when he missed some offseason workouts with the Packers because he was taking a pair of classes at Alabama. With 14 hours remaining, he will return to campus again next spring to complete the requirements for his criminal justice degree.
He stood on the sidelines and watched Alabama’s A-Day Game and continues to follow the Crimson Tide closely.
“I watch them every Saturday,” he said. “Guys sit in the room and give me hell all the time, especially since we lost (in the CFP National Championship Game) this year. But it’s rare that you see ‘Bama lose, so guys don’t really give me any problems in the locker room.”
When asked what he thought of the 2017 season opener with Florida State, Clinton-Dix gave a predictable response.
“C’mon man,” he said, when asked which team would win. “I bleed crimson. Of course, we’re going to win this game. It’s the first game in front of us and we’re not taking it lightly.”