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Training Camp Notebook: Starting Safety Positions Remain Up In The Air


Safety Watch

The safety position continues to serve as one of the most intriguing training camp battles, as veterans Arturo Freeman, Earl Little and Mark Roman jockey for position with rookies Nick Collins and Marviel Underwood.

"We have great competition there," head coach Mike Sherman said.

The Packers have used Collins on the starting team, pairing him with a veteran to mentor him on the checks and communications required of the position.

"He's a good athlete," Roman said. "All that's left for him now is to learn the defense."

Collins has made big plays in camp, highlighted by his fumble-inducing hit on running back Chris Robertson.

"He's breaking on the ball pretty well," wide receiver Donald Driver said.

Roman said the transition from college to the pros is more difficult for defensive players like Collins and Underwood. The play-call dictates what offensive players should do while the defenders must react and plan based on the offensive play.

"You have to make checks according to what someone else is doing to you," he said.

Whoever lands the starting roles will carry a large burden for the defense. They must replace departed veteran Darren Sharper and make many of the calls for the defensive secondary.

"Safeties are a big part of this defense," Brett Favre said.


Defense Coming Together

Defensive Coordinator Jim Bates said he installed 90 percent of the defense, and Brett Favre likes what he sees.

"I think the defense is getting better," Favre said.

Middle linebacker Nick Barnett's play reinforces Favre's statement. Bates' defense demands the third-year veteran to make the majority of the tackles. The coaches repeatedly praised Barnett's play during both of Tuesday's practices.

Barnett smiled as he walked toward the children with bicycles ready to escort him from practice to the locker room.

"I'm getting the scheme down," he said.

Favre has frequently played against Bates' schemes. The Packers defensive coordinator coached the Dallas Cowboys' linebackers and defensive line from 1996 to 1999 and the Miami Dolphins' defense from 2000 to 2004.

The quarterback described the defense as a bend-but-don't-break defense. His Packers offenses could rack up yardage and drive down the field but would struggle to put points on the board.

"They don't give up the big plays," Favre said.


Backup Linebackers Forced To Step Up

First, injuries struck the cornerbacks, but Al Harris (quadriceps) and Jason Horton (shoulder) have returned to practice. Then the running backs went down, but Najeh Davenport (ankle) and Walt Williams (ankle) have returned to practice. Now it's the linebackers.

With injuries to Brady Poppinga (hamstring), Na'il Diggs (knee), Kurt Campbell (calf) and Ray Thompson (knee), players like Zac Woodfin, Paris Lenon and Roy Manning will have to step up during Thursday's preseason game versus San Diego.

"We're going to have some combination play as far as some guys overlapping and playing two positions," Bates said.

Those backups seem ready for the challenge.

"That's what we're expected to do," said middle linebacker Roy Manning, an undrafted free agent. "We're not considered rookies any more, once we get here. When someone goes down, someone has to step up and fill the void."

The number of injuries does not surprise Barnett, who said last year's injury bug was worse. The coaching staff has made an effort to shorten some practices and conducted others with shells and not pads, but injuries are just a part of the rigors of two-a-day practices in the 90-degree temperatures of training camp.

"Around this part of the year is when you start seeing them," Barnett said. "The legs are heavy and you don't pick them up and you don't finish plays. That's when you start getting hurt."

Whatever the reason, many players on the roster, particularly the linebackers, have missed practice. However most have involved nothing more than strained or pulled muscles.

"It's more than I've ever been associated with," said general manager Ted Thompson of the injuries. "Fortunately most of them are not that severe, and we expect them to get back in time."


Quick Hits Rookie William Whitticker took some snaps at starting guard during Tuesday's practices. ... Because of depth issues, the team practiced without pads on Tuesday. ... Sherman said there was "good energy" during Tuesday morning's practice. ... Na'il Diggs sprained his MCL and will miss at least two weeks of action. ... Ray Thompson missed Tuesday's morning session to rest his knee, which swelled up overnight. ... Sherman said Brady Poppinga (hamstring) should be available next week.

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