GREEN BAY – The statistics from Packers safety Darnell Savage’s rookie season carry different perspectives.
On the one hand, with two interceptions and two forced fumbles, Savage was the only NFL rookie a year ago to record multiples in both categories, according to Sportradar.
On the other, the Packers traded up to draft him in the first round at No. 21 overall in 2019 because they believe he’s capable of a lot more of those game-changing type of plays.
“I always feel like there’s room to improve,” Savage said in a media session Thursday. “I’m an extremely confident guy, but at the same time I always want to get better.
“I want to improve in everything. I’m not going to stop until I’m on top of the world.”
Stepping in with the first unit in coordinator Mike Pettine’s defense from Day 1, Savage became the first Packers safety to start an opener since Morgan Burnett in 2010. The 5-11, 198-pound speedster played in all but two games and earned a PFWA All-Rookie selection.
His brief two-week absence was due to an ankle injury, which may have affected him more than anyone let on. While Savage said he’ll make no excuses, and he’s proud of how he navigated some of the “tough sledding” with the injury to play as much as he did, a closer look at the aforementioned stats would indicate it was a factor in how his season unfolded.
The injury occurred in the second quarter of the Week 5 game at Dallas. In the first four games when he was fully healthy, Savage had one of the two interceptions, one of two forced fumbles, and four of his seven passes defensed on the season.
After returning from the injury, over the final 11 games including playoffs, he had just one pick, one forced fumble and three passes defensed.
“Injuries are going to happen,” he said. “There are some that are severe and some that are moderate that you are able to push through. You’ve just got to find the best way to manage it and deal with it. I think I did a pretty good job with it being my first injury that I actually had to play with.
“Obviously, would’ve been a lot better if it never happened but it did happen, so it is what it is. I learned from it.”
The ankle aside, Savage believes improvement in his second season will come from better mental acuity as well. He didn’t specify any areas he wants to improve – there were certainly a few missed tackles he’d like to have back, and he feels he may have been “a little hesitant” at certain moments on the field – but he’ll let the natural progression take its course rather than try to force anything or push for a particular result.
“I think the emphasis I want to put on myself is continue to do what got me to this point and not overthink or anything like that,” he said. “Just use my God-given ability, the brain that God gave me, the instincts, and just go.”
As for the defense as a whole, plenty of outside attention has focused on the Packers’ rough ending. Savage noted while he and his teammates aren’t ignoring the regrettable performance in San Francisco, it’s not their only reference point to get better in 2020.
“You always use the losses and bad stuff as motivation, but we didn’t play any perfect games last year so even the wins as well, we use those as motivation too because we feel as if you can always do better,” he said. “With it being, for me, Year 2 in the system, you’re just a lot more comfortable out there, you know what you can do, you know what you can get away with, so it’s fun.”