Bigby, Bush State Their Cases, Move Up

During Monday evening’s practice, Atari Bigby was taking first-team snaps at safety in Marquand Manuel’s place, and Jarrett Bush usurped Patrick Dendy’s spot at the third cornerback in the nickel package. They’re the types of challenges all the training camp competition was designed to generate. - More


General Manager Ted Thompson and Head Coach Mike McCarthy came into this training camp hoping to create the kind of competition for positions that would elevate everyone's play and keep everyone pushing for prominent roles.

It appears to be working in the defensive backfield perhaps better than anywhere else.

Safety Atari Bigby and cornerback Jarrett Bush are two players who have thrust themselves into the fray for significant playing time with their solid work throughout training camp, and their big plays on Saturday against Seattle validated the impact they can make in a game setting.

As a result, both players moved up the depth chart during Monday evening's practice, with Bigby taking first-team snaps at safety in Marquand Manuel's place, and Bush taking Patrick Dendy's spot at the third cornerback in the nickel package.

On Saturday, Bigby had two sacks on blitzes, one that forced a fumble that was returned for a touchdown by Tracy White, and finished with four tackles total. Meanwhile Bush had two interceptions against the Seahawks, and should have had a third, plus two tackles.

Those performances have elevated them to their new spots for Thursday's game against Jacksonville, and perhaps beyond, though nothing is set as far as the regular season goes. Bigby and Bush have been keeping the pressure on the incumbents to keep their jobs, the kind of competition the coaching staff wanted, and now it will be up to them to hold those spots.

"They're playing with a lot more confidence out there, and I think you can tell," starting cornerback Charles Woodson said of all the young defensive backs. "It's evident. They're going out there and making plays. That's one thing I try to stress to them, when you see something, you have to have the confidence in yourself to go out there and make that play, and you can see they're doing it."

Both Bigby and Bush are examples of players who improved their bodies physically during the offseason program, and that hard work is paying dividends. Not that Manuel and Dendy have done anything necessarily to warrant replacement, but standout performances in the preseason games can start to tip the balance.

Manuel had taken almost all the snaps with the No. 1 defense thus far in camp, with Bigby taking a few last week in preparation for the Seattle game. The veteran who came from the Seahawks as a free agent last year appears healthier this season, as evidenced by his rundown of speedy wide receiver Nate Burleson from behind to prevent a long touchdown on Saturday.

But Bigby demonstrated another dimension to his game by whipping around and through running backs on the blitz to get to the quarterback. His first sack produced White's touchdown, and his second halted Seattle's final drive of the first half to force a field goal.

"I think I'm a versatile safety," Bigby said. "The Packers are using me that way. They're not just using me in run support. A lot of times I'm back in space, and then as you see I'm blitzing and doing things like that."

McCarthy would love to see more of it.

"His impact-play ability, which he showed against Seattle, is something that you're excited about," he said. "We want to see if he can do it from the beginning of the football game. It's a little different running out there against the No. 2s than the No. 1s."

{sportsad300}Before Monday, Dendy had in essence been the third cornerback throughout camp as well, joining Woodson and Al Harris when the No. 1 defense went to its nickel package. In that alignment, Woodson has moved into the slot with the third corner covering an outside receiver.

Bush had been the next corner in line throughout camp, working mostly in tandem with Dendy in the No. 2 base defense. On Saturday, his first pick came on an overthrow by Seattle's No. 3 quarterback, David Greene, and his second came when he read Greene's eyes and stepped in front of Ben Obomanu.

He returned the two interceptions a total of 41 yards, setting up potential scores with both. The Packers cashed in on the second with a field goal. He nearly had a third interception that glanced off his hands.

"For as good as he played on defense, I thought he played even better on special teams," McCarthy said. "He's a very physical football player, a tough kid that's only going to get better. He deserves an opportunity to run out with the first group."

Bush, who said the near-pick made him "sick to my stomach," just wants to show the coaches he can perform this well on a consistent basis.

"I just have to keep doing what I'm doing," said Bush, who like Bigby declined to say he's won anything as far as the positional battles are concerned. "I can't change anything. I can't tweak anything. Just keep doing what I'm doing every day in practice this week and go into Jacksonville, and show myself again."

With that game coming up so quickly on Thursday, it will be interesting to see how all the competitors respond to the sequence of events. Those moved down will certainly mount a challenge, while those rising need to follow up with more strong play.

"All of these guys are good friends it seems like, so it's friendly competition," Woodson said. "But at the same time (they're) understanding you can't make any mistakes out there, because so many guys are playing good football right now. Those guys understand that, and they understand what's at stake."

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