Chillar, Poppinga Understand Business Of Competition


On the field, they're going to be competing for a job at the same position, battling every day in OTAs, mini-camp and training camp to be the starting strong-side linebacker for the defending NFC North Division champions.

Off the field, their lockers are right next to each other.

But neither free agent Brandon Chillar nor incumbent Brady Poppinga, who will be waging one of the most-watched positional competitions between now and the season opener for the Packers, insists there's anything uncomfortable about the current locker room arrangement for the two veterans.

It's just part of the business, and that's how these two will approach their task with a coveted starting job at stake - all business.

"Me and Brady, we get along good," Chillar said after a recent workout in the team's offseason program. "It's nothing weird. This is a profession. We've talked about it, and we're both just going to go out there and compete.

"Basically every year you play in this league you're going to have somebody competing for your position. I don't think that's anything new to either of us."

In a separate interview, Poppinga took a similar view.

"What's weird about it? He's another human being," he said. "The biggest thing is he's not a threat. He didn't come in here to threaten me. He came in here to compete and make our team better, and he has. I think he's going to make our team a lot better."

That was the idea in signing Chillar, who spent his first four seasons in the NFL with the St. Louis Rams, the last two as a full-time starter. Head Coach Mike McCarthy has indicated in previous comments that the signing of Chillar was not a reflection of any dissatisfaction with Poppinga's play the last two years as the starting 'Sam' linebacker alongside Nick Barnett at 'Mike' (middle) and A.J. Hawk at 'Will' (weak-side).

The move was simply in keeping with McCarthy's and GM Ted Thompson's philosophy of improving the roster as a whole. Where competition is created, the hope is that the competitors will elevate their games, and as a result both a starting spot and the overall depth, including sub-packages and special teams, will be improved.

How it ultimately shakes out is not a concern until a decision actually needs to be made, but for the Packers, it's practically a no-lose situation. No matter who wins the job, the defense will have a veteran in his third year as a full-time starter at 'Sam' and a backup with a wealth of experience and past special-teams prowess.

Poppinga, a converted collegiate defensive end who also could add another option to a pass-rush package, ranked second on the team with 22 special teams tackles as a rookie in 2005, while Chillar posted a combined 24 special teams tackles his first two seasons in the league.

Until the competition begins and their roles begin to be defined, both Chillar and Poppinga are dedicating themselves to the offseason strength and conditioning program to get themselves as physically prepared as possible.

"We're trying to get our bodies ready, in the mode to be football players," Poppinga said. "That's our focus."

Chillar's, at this point, is also on learning as much as he can about the defensive scheme before OTAs begin May 19. A part-time starter his first two years in St. Louis before taking over the full-time job, Chillar considers athleticism his biggest asset. He was used as a blitzer at times in St. Louis defensive coordinator Jim Haslett's aggressive, risk-taking scheme, and last December he actually forced one of the Packers' relatively few turnovers in 2007, jarring the ball loose from running back Ryan Grant on a dump-off pass (a Rams teammate recovered).

Chillar acknowledges that Green Bay's defense isn't known for as much blitzing, but he feels he's a good fit for the scheme and its responsibilities.

"I think as a linebacker it lets you show off your cover skills," he said. "I like to think of myself as a pretty good cover guy, so I'll be matched up against these tight ends a lot and see what I can do."

That was one area considered a weakness of Poppinga's earlier in his career, but he made considerable strides to shore that up last season, his second as the full-time starter after recovering from a season-ending knee injury at the end of his 2005 rookie year.

The Packers were victimized last year by San Diego's Antonio Gates (11 catches, 113 yards), Washington's Chris Cooley (nine catches, 105 yards, one TD), Kansas City's Tony Gonzalez (10 catches, 109 yards, one TD) and Dallas' Jason Witten (six catches, 67 yards), but by no means did all of those catches by tight ends come against Poppinga in coverage.

The Packers tried several defenders in those games against the tight end, and it's not as though other teams succeeded in taking them away, either, as they became four of the five tight ends named to the Pro Bowl squads. It's also worth noting that no opposing tight end had more than two catches in the final four regular-season games or the two postseason contests.

Poppinga was playing perhaps his best football in the postseason, posting five tackles (four solo) with several notable hits in the NFC Championship Game against the New York Giants. That solid performance at season's end was an indication Poppinga has not reached his ceiling as a player, and he has every intention of proving that as he fights to keep his starting job.

"I'm not going to be uncomfortable (with competition) unless I really felt I had some shortcomings myself and they were going to be exploited by someone or something, and I don't feel that way," Poppinga said.

{sportsad300}As for the notion that the competition will make him a better player, Poppinga emphasized that he would be motivated to improve regardless because that's his personality.

"Motivation to me doesn't come from an external source, it's derived from the inside," he said. "It's great to have a guy there that's going to push you. It's great to have a guy there that you can learn from, and that's what I've done with A.J. and Nick and the other guys.

"But I'm not being pushed for financial reasons or fame or whatever it may be, a superficial element. It's always because of myself and what I want to do, what I desire."

Business as it is in the NFL, Chillar desires the same thing, and like Poppinga, the competition is more internal. The players understand the organization's approach, and how they handle it from here is up to them.

"It's not competitive with Brady, it's just whoever plays better is going to probably have the job, so it's more just competing with ourselves, not making mistakes, making sure the coaches like what you're doing," Chillar said.

"I just want to contribute. Obviously I want to play linebacker, but I just want to compete. As long as they give me a fair shot to compete for a linebacker spot, I just want to be a positive influence on the team and help us win games."

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