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Notebook: Some Options At Strong Safety Spot

Head Coach Mike McCarthy said Thursday that Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Woodson, who has started at strong safety the past three games, will work at both safety and cornerback in practice this week with second-year safety Aaron Rouse also seeing time with the first unit. - More Mike McCarthy Press Conference Transcript - Dec. 18

Head Coach Mike McCarthy said Thursday that Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Woodson, who has started at strong safety the past three games, will work at both safety and cornerback in practice this week with second-year safety Aaron Rouse also seeing time with the first unit.

With safety Atari Bigby being placed on injured reserve on Thursday by the team, Rouse would be the most likely candidate to move back into the starting lineup if the Packers decide to shift Woodson back to the corner spot.

"What initiated it was the injury situation at safety and the ability to play Tramon (Williams) in base," McCarthy said. "So we're going to still have the flexibility to play Aaron at safety as the starter, and also have Charles ready to go at safety. We're just going to make sure we're covered both ways."

Woodson has been productive in his three games at safety, posting 26 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and two passes defensed.

"I would say his natural position is definitely corner, and I think he's an excellent nickel player in sub defenses, because he has the ability to get his hands on the receiver," McCarthy said. "He's an excellent bump-and-run player, plays a lot of instincts. I think he's definitely built for corner. I think he's played well at safety for us."

Rouse started four games earlier this season when Bigby was sidelined with a hamstring injury that he sustained in Week 2 at Detroit. He came in for Bigby in the second quarter of the Packers' Week 12 loss at New Orleans as Bigby was hobbled by an ankle injury, but Rouse left the game in the fourth quarter after sustaining an ankle injury of his own.

Rouse was inactive the following week vs. Carolina, saw limited time at safety the next week vs. Houston, and then played strictly on special teams at Jacksonville last Sunday.

"I do what is asked of me," Rouse said. "I'm a young player on this team. If coaches want me to play special teams, that's what I'll do. If they want me in there, I'll get in there. It's just something when you are called on (you have to) be ready and be prepared."

Rouse has shown flashes of his play-making ability during his opportunities in his first two seasons, with two interceptions in three starts in '07 and a 99-yard interception return for a touchdown in Green Bay's Week 7 win over Indianapolis, but like many younger players, has also battled consistency problems.

"My main thing right now is to have a good game against Chicago if and when I get in there, continue to finish the season up strong, and take it into my offseason training," Rouse said.

Hester developing at wideout

Known for his returning abilities highlighted by 11 touchdowns that earned him Pro Bowl honors in each of his first two seasons, Bears wide receiver Devin Hester hasn't made it into the end zone on a return this season, but he has shown considerable progress in his second season on offense.

Hester leads Chicago's wide receivers with 43 receptions and leads the team with 568 receiving yards. In the last four games he has caught 17 passes for 250 yards (14.7 avg.), including a 65-yard touchdown in Week 13 at Minnesota.

"I think all year he's progressed, but I really see the last three or four games he's had a lot of confidence in his route running, and he's just looking great and he's made a lot of plays for us," Bears quarterback Kyle Orton said. "He's just going to keep on getting better and better.

"He's learning the position at the NFL level which is tough to do and it's going to take some time, but as long as he keeps showing this improvement he's going to be a great receiver."

In Chicago's 27-24 overtime win over New Orleans last week, the Bears' two biggest offensive gains came from passes intended for Hester that drew pass interference calls on Saints cornerbacks. The first was a 39-yard penalty on Jason David in the second quarter, and the second came on Nick Harper in overtime for a 38-yard pickup down to the New Orleans 15 to set up Robbie Gould's winning field goal.

"He's an explosive player," McCarthy said. "Obviously everybody knows what he can do when he gets the ball in his hands, and I think he's definitely progressed a lot as far as his route running and so forth. You're seeing him do double moves. I think his menu has definitely increased as far as the routes he is using."

On the verge

With Woodson and safety Nick Collins earning Pro Bowl recognition on Tuesday, the Packers' offense was not represented on the NFC roster for only the second time in the past eight seasons.

"I'm disappointed for a couple of guys," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "Greg (Jennings) in particular has had a great season and had a great season last year. But it's hard to look at the guys who made it and say they didn't deserve to make it."

Jennings still has a chance to go to Hawaii after being named the first alternate at wide receiver. He has a career-high 1,153 yards receiving on a career-best 69 catches , and is tied for the league lead in both 20-plus yard receptions (19) and 40-plus yard catches (7).

The Pro Bowlers at receiver for the NFC are Carolina's Steve Smith (70 catches for 1,240 yards), Atlanta's Roddy White (82-1,310), and Larry Fitzgerald (88-1,200) and Anquan Boldin (89-1,038) of Arizona.

"It is what it is," Jennings said. "Those guys deserve it."

{sportsad300}Injury/participation update

Tackle Chad Clifton (thumbs/knees) participated fully in Thursday's practice after being listed as limited on Wednesday. McCarthy said that Clifton would play on Monday and that the starting offensive line will be the same as last week with Tony Moll making his second straight start at right tackle.

Cornerback Al Harris was added to the injury report on Thursday with a sprained shoulder and was a limited participant on Thursday. McCarthy said the injury has been bothering Harris since the game at Jacksonville on Sunday.

"I anticipate Al to play this week," McCarthy said. "It's just something that's been bothering him since the game Sunday. (Dr.) Pat McKenzie will look at him again in the morning."

Fullback Korey Hall (knee), running back Brandon Jackson (wrist) and Woodson (toe) were all limited.

Tight end Tory Humphrey (concussion) participated fully on Thursday. Defensive tackle Justin Harrell (hip) was a full participant as well.

For Chicago, defensive tackle Tommie Harris (knee) was a full participant on Thursday. Running back Matt Forte (toe) and fullback Jason McKie (quadriceps) did not participate, and wide receiver Marty Booker (ribs) was limited.

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