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Bigby To Undergo Surgery On Friday

Posted Aug 5, 2010

Atari Bigby expected to be a week into a competition with rookie Morgan Burnett for the starting strong safety spot at this point in camp. Instead, he is getting ready to have surgery on Friday for a lingering left ankle injury that will sideline him for an undetermined period of time.

Bigby, who has been on the physically unable to perform list since the ankle flared up in his conditioning test last week, traveled to Charlotte on Wednesday for further testing. He now will head back to North Carolina for what he called a “cleanup procedure” to be done by Dr. Robert Anderson that will clear out scar tissue from the previous surgery Anderson performed on Bigby in 2008.

“Anytime you go into surgery, I think you should be concerned,” Bigby said. “But from what I have been hearing, it shouldn’t end my season. I should be ready to go, so I am optimistic about that.”

Bigby originally sustained the injury during a 2008 preseason contest at Denver, and the ankle bothered him throughout that season, one that saw him limited to just seven games due to that injury as well as ones to his hamstring and shoulder. He underwent surgery on the ankle late in ’08, a more serious operation that Bigby compared to a microfracture surgery.

Bigby bounced back last season to play in 13 games, missing three contests early in the year due to a sprained knee, and finished ’09 with 54 tackles, four interceptions and 12 passes defensed. As an unsigned restricted free agent, Bigby did not participate in the Packers’ offseason program, instead electing to work out on his own in Florida before signing his tender last week in order to report to training camp on time.

Bigby said he did have some ankle soreness following the ’09 campaign, but he attributed it more to the normal wear-and-tear that his body feels at the end of a long season.

If the Packers were to place him on the reserve physically unable to perform list, he would have to sit out the first six games of the season, something Bigby said he hopes to avoid.  While the exact extent of the damage to his ankle won’t be known until the surgery on Friday, Bigby said he is optimistic that he will be able to start working out again within a month. With the season opener in Philadelphia five weeks away, he wasn’t ruling out being ready for the first game.

“I think every player wants to start the season playing,” Bigby said. “No one wants to sit out the first game, because coming out of the offseason you should be healthy the first game. You shouldn’t be in this predicament. I’m hoping Week 1 I will be ready.

“Hopefully I can get this thing right. I feel like once I am healthy, the ball is in my court and I can control my destiny.”

For now the starting spot opposite Pro Bowl free safety Nick Collins appears to be Burnett’s job to lose. With Bigby missing the offseason, the third-round draft pick out of Georgia Tech whom the Packers moved up to select lined up with the No. 1 defense throughout OTAs and mini-camp, and he has continued to see all of the reps with the starters through the first week of training camp.

“This is my first training camp so I am still trying to adapt and get used to training camp,” Burnett said. ”I’m trying to learn the plays as quickly as I can to try to gain the trust and the respect of our coaches and our veterans.

“I have to be prepared at all times for my number to be called, so that is why I am trying to get better, understand my checks and my calls, and try to communicate as quickly as I can.”

The athletic Burnett was known for his playmaking ability at Georgia Tech, evidenced by his 14 interceptions in just three seasons, two shy of the school record. Burnett admitted that the adjustment to the pro game is fairly drastic, especially with the signal-calling responsibilities required of the safeties in defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme. That learning curve has been aided by the veteran Collins next to him in the backfield.

“It helps out a lot because there could be some times where I miss a call, Nick could pick it up and get everything coordinated in the back,” Burnett said. “But just also having Nick and then Atari on the sideline. I can go to the sideline and Atari can help me out and tell me things he might have seen and what I could have done different. The veterans in our secondary are very helpful and they have been helping out a lot.”

This is the second straight season that the Packers have had to deal with an injury at safety early in the season. Last year, Bigby went down in Week 1 with a knee injury and missed the next three games, a stretch that saw the Packers go 1-2 with the defensive backfield having some communication struggles in the new 3-4 scheme. Aaron Rouse started in Bigby’s place in Week 2 before being released, with recent trade acquisition Derrick Martin also seeing significant time until Bigby came back.

With this year’s loss coming early in camp, the Packers have more than just the week between games that they had last year to adjust their rotation, and also more depth and experience than the 2009 group. Martin is now in his second year in the system, former cornerback  Will Blackmon made the switch to safety during the offseason, and Charlie Peprah, who was with the team for all of the preseason last year, re-signed as a free agent in April.

“There have been some times where there have only been three safeties back there, but now that we have a little depth, hopefully we can get everybody on the same page,” said Collins, the only rookie safety to start a game since Chuck Cecil did in 1988. “If something does happen to one of us, they can step in and they can move forward and help this team win.

“I think that is why they have got all of these safeties here, so we won’t have that situation like we had last year.”

While the team hopes that Bigby’s absence turns out to be a short-term one, Collins sounds confident that the 21-year-old Burnett is up to the challenge.

“He’s a smart guy,” Collins said. “He knows what he is supposed to. He understands the defense. He has got a lot of veterans helping him, so it’s just that much easier for him to come in and fit with the No. 1 defense.

“The defense has got to rely on you back there as a safety. If anything goes down, you have their back. I know he has got our trust in the secondary. We know if he gets put in the starting role or he gets put in a game situation, he is going to come out there and do what he has to do and we’re going to trust him. It’s just to get the other seven guys that are in front of us to believe in him, but I think he is making strides.”

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