With second-round draft pick Nick Collins and seventh-round draft pick William Whitticker already starting, two more rookies of a promising draft class, Marviel Underwood and Brady Poppinga, saw action on Sunday.
When Collins, the starting free safety, left Sunday's game in the third quarter with a thigh contusion, Underwood, a fourth-round draft pick, assumed his role. Underwood had already been filling in for No. 3 safety Earl Little (hamstring) on some passing downs packages and playing on special teams.
"He showed flashes that he could play this game and be good at it," said starting strong safety Mark Roman.
Roman said that he did not need to provide extra instruction to the rookie who had two tackles during the game.
"He's a smart guy who knows what to do and when to do it," Roman said before cracking a joke. "Even if I tried, he was so tired he wasn't going to listen anyway."
Underwood was tired for good reason. According to estimates by the coaching staff, he played 46 snaps and on 71.9 percent of the game's total plays.
Fourth-round pick Poppinga received less action than Underwood, but had just as much impact. His two snaps came in a 3-2 dime defensive alignment. In the first quarter the Packers blitzed Poppinga and cornerback Al Harris from that alignment, and Poppinga dropped Minnesota Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper for a 14-yard loss on third-and-18.
A special teams demon with nine tackles this year, Poppinga may have seen more action at an earlier date, but a hamstring injury sidelined him for the majority of training camp and the preseason, putting the rookie behind the learning curve.
On Sunday Poppinga relished the chance to show the pass rushing skills he honed at Brigham Young, where he recorded 20 sacks during his college career and played his first three seasons at defensive end.
"It was fun," he said.
Although Poppinga enjoyed that play, he criticized himself for taking a wrong angle later in the game on a third-and-long play.
Underwood showed sound tackling ability and a knack for breaking on the ball but needs to do a better job staying low in his back pedal and have a better overall awareness of the action on the field. The latter skill will improve with game experience.
Most importantly Roman did not have to assume more responsibility with Underwood beside him.
"It doesn't put any more pressure on me," Roman said. "Everyone's on the same page."
Whether Underwood receives that much defensive action again likely depends on the status of Collins. He underwent an MRI exam and said he was in good health but did not reveal whether he would play on Sunday.
"I'm doing great," Collins said. "We'll see."
Precocious rookies Poppinga and Underwood, however, have prepared themselves for when that next opportunity comes.
"I'll be ready for when they need me," Poppinga said.