One good way during training camp to see just where a backup stands on the depth chart is to see who goes in when a starter is not available.
With a handful of select veterans given a practice off by Head Coach Mike McCarthy, Thursday morning was a good time to gauge some spots, particularly the deep and crowded defensive backfield.
Al Harris and Charles Woodson were among the veterans absent, which resulted in Patrick Dendy and Jarrett Bush holding the two cornerback spots with the No. 1 defense. (The two did so again on a couple of snaps in the evening practice as well.) Dendy was the team's No. 3 corner, or nickelback, last year and is the early front-runner for that job again in 2007.
But Bush has kept himself ahead of free-agent acquisition Frank Walker and 2006 draftee Will Blackmon, and getting snaps with the No. 1s is the best thing the second-year pro could ask for to aid his development.
"Definitely, especially going against the No. 1 receivers and getting more experience on the better receivers," Bush said. "I just have to keep learning the defense, doing what I'm doing, competing, and when Al and Charles come back, just be ready to go, because if they go down in a game I have to be ready to step up."
Originally a non-drafted free agent out of Utah State signed last year by Carolina, Bush was claimed on waivers after the Panthers released him in their final roster reduction. He made his mark as a rookie with the Packers on special teams, finishing third on the team with 13 tackles.
Special teams continues to be a high priority for Bush, but he also continues to make strides as a defensive back. He blocked a field goal attempt by Dave Rayner at City Stadium on Tuesday evening, and two nights earlier, he intercepted Aaron Rodgers in a seven-on-seven drill.
Bush said he feels "more mature, more humble" in his second season, and he feels he's finally settling into the position after beginning his college career as a receiver and return man.
In his short time in the NFL, Bush has gotten to learn the cornerback spot from some seasoned pros in both Carolina (Ken Lucas and Chris Gamble) and Green Bay (Harris and Woodson).
"When I see them, I try to mimic them almost, but I also have my own style," he said. "I'm a fast learner and I pick up things quick, so I think that's why I'm so successful right now. I just have to keep fighting the good fight."
He's still competing for the nickel spot, but if he at least holds onto No. 4, he likely would be the sixth defensive back if the defense were to employ a dime.
"I have to be a student of the game and keep learning, and hopefully the sky is the limit for me," he said.
Other backups work with No. 1s
Some other positions that saw backups slide up to the No. 1 units Thursday morning included the offensive line, where Junius Coston took Chad Clifton's place at left tackle and Tony Moll filled in for Mark Tauscher at right tackle.
In Donald Driver's absence, James Jones took the No. 2 receiver spot alongside Greg Jennings, and Ruvell Martin was added for the three-receiver set. Martin had two big catches in a team period, beating Marquand Manuel deep for a long throw from Rodgers, and then on a slant, reaching well behind himself to make a difficult catch, spin and keep his feet.
Also, rookie running back DeShawn Wynn took a handful of snaps with the No. 1 offense as the lone tailback.
During the final evening team period, a competitive third-down session, the defense made a series of strong stops after the offense had produced the better of the play earlier in the workout.
Dendy made a nice strip of Jones on a crossing route to get an incompletion, and defensive end Aaron Kampman stuffed P.J. Pope in the hole on a counter running play. Rookie safety Aaron Rouse nearly had an interception, but the deflection went to Calvin Russell for a reception. Rouse also got through on a blitz for a would-be sack.
The offense did have one big third-down catch, by Carlyle Holiday, who dove across the middle with Harris all over him and made the grab.
"I thought the offense probably out-tempoed the defense a little bit in the beginning and the defense got a little frustrated, but that's good," McCarthy said. "That's adversity, that's what you're looking for. I thought the defense responded. I thought the defense played very well here in the third-down period. I thought it was one of our better practices in training camp."
The battle for the kicking job remains close, but thus far Rayner appears as though he'll be tough to beat out.
In the morning practice, Rayner and Mason Crosby alternated attempts in a long series of kicks that started at 29 yards and went all the way back to 51 yards. Rayner made every single kick, including both of his attempts from 51. Crosby missed twice, including one wide left on the first of his two attempts from 48, but he then recovered to hit from 48 and twice from 51.
Then in the evening practice, both kickers attempted a "run-on" field goal of 50-plus yards, and both were good.
There will certainly be more value placed on the upcoming kicks during the Family Night scrimmage and preseason games because of the environment and the added pressure, but the Packers appear to be choosing between two quality legs.
The late practice ended with a kicking competition during which all the players huddled around the kickers to distract them, yelling and squirting water on them.
After a couple of rounds, the distractions got a little out of hand and the competition was declared a draw. Even McCarthy got a little wet from some of the sprayed liquids.
Doing his rehab
Running back Vernand Morency, who has been sidelined since the first practice with a knee injury, could be out as long as four weeks, according to McCarthy.
Morency has attacked his rehab the same way he did the team's offseason strength and conditioning program, during which he was one of the hardest workers. Morency is rehabbing the knee two and sometimes three times per day while still taking in each practice from the sidelines wearing a baseball cap.
"I want to be out there with my guys," he said. "Sweat, blood and tears, that's what it's about in training camp. It's the dog days, and you definitely want to be out there with your teammates. It pains me every single day to go out there and watch those guys in practice and get better, and me not out there."
Injury, participation update
Fullback Brandon Miree (Achilles), defensive tackle Daniel Muir (ankle) and offensive lineman Allen Barbre (hamstring) returned to practice.
Tight end Bubba Franks was scratched in the eye late in Tuesday night's practice and sat out Thursday evening. McCarthy said the injury is 90 percent healed and Franks should be back on the field soon.
Cornerback Antonio Malone also was added to the injury report. He has re-injured the knee he hurt while in NFL Europa.