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Notebook: Rookie Starts At Safety


Auspicious Debut

Rookie Nick Collins made his first start in an NFL game, and he impressed the coaching staff. He halted a Chargers drive to the Green Bay 32-yard line with an interception of an overthrown Drew Brees pass. In the first quarter he also tackled Chargers running back Andrew Pinnock so hard that he lost his helmet.

"I did pretty well," said the second-round draft pick.

Everyone knew of the 200-pounder's athleticism. He has a 40-inch vertical leap, but the rookie from Bethune-Cookman understood the defensive schemes on Thursday, which is a good thing because the 69,611 raucous fans made communication difficult.

"He's got a good grasp of it," said Mark Roman, who started opposite Collins at strong safety. "A lot of it is him being a smart kid, knowing what to do and getting everybody lined up."

He finished with three tackles on the night, and his performance could pave his way for a starting spot come opening day of the regular season

"We'll see," Collins said. "We'll let coaches decide that."


Guard Watch

In the derby to replace former Packers Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera, Adrian Klemm and rookie William Whitticker started at guard for the first team.

Klemm, the former New England Patriot who signed as a free agent in the offseason, said he felt more comfortable in pass protection than opening holes in the running game. That helps explain why the Packers only averaged 2.9 rushing yards after averaging 4.3 last year.

"The run game was a lot for me to learn," the former tackle said. "I have to get a little better with my reads, but that comes with repetition and time."

Whitticker, a seventh-round draft pick also said his pass protection skills exceeded his work in the running game. He must improve his communication with the other linemen and emphasize keeping a good base.

Favre praised the rookie while Whitticker graded his performance a B. If he keeps improving at that rate, he might land the starting job.

"I'm ready for it," he said.

The offensive line also needs to eliminate the penalties. The team had nine on the night, and the offense committed three holding penalties.

"That kills us," offensive coordinator Tom Rossley said.

An offensive line criticized for surrendering eight sacks in last week's scrimmage versus the Buffalo Bills allowed only two against the Chargers.

"I'm further ahead than I was two weeks ago," Klemm said.

He could have been speaking for the entire unit.


Barnett Stars For Depleted Unit

With Na'il Diggs (knee), Brady Poppinga (hamstring) and Kurt Campbell (knee) out, the starting linebackers had to play longer than they would typically would during the first preseason game.

"We're slim on linebackers right now," Hannibal Navies said, who played into the third quarter. "You've got to pick up the slack with everybody being hurt and just gut it out."

Middle linebacker Nick Barnett's performance shined as he made six tackles while playing about half of the game. He welcomed the opportunity to spend more time learning the new defense.

"I need the work," he said.

Perhaps no player will play as crucial a role in the defense as Barnett, who will be asked to roam from sideline-to-sideline to make plays. Barnett led the team in tackles on the night but said he should have had five more.

"I'm seeing what this defense is all about going against live ammunition," he said. "This scheme is going to allow you to run to the ball and make plays."


Lost In Translation

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers' helmet microphone cut out, other players stepped on him twice, and he took the field during a rainstorm.

"Other than that, it was a good learning experience," he said. "Getting my feet wet and making plays when the pocket broke down."

When Rodgers could not hear quarterbacks coach Darrell Bevell, he was forced to call his own play. He called a pass to wide receiver Andrae Thurman on one play with a four wide receiver set.

"It was kind of fun," Rodgers said. "I'm used to being told what to call."

He finished the game 2-of-6 for seven yards. He showed good mobility, running twice for 10 yards. Most impressively he showed moxie considering all that went wrong around him.

"He didn't do anything to disappoint me at all," head coach Mike Sherman said.

The rookie borrowed Brett Favre's helmet before finishing the game with Craig Nall's helmet. Nall entered the game after communication problems forced Rodgers to call his own plays.

"That's the preseason, we'll get that stuff figured out," Rodgers said. "I'll get better from here."


Quick Hits: Fullback Vonta Leach banged his knee at the end of the game. Sherman did not consider the injury serious. ...Neither Chargers running back LaDanian Tomlinson nor fullback Lorenzo Neal played on Thursday.

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