Friendly fire: 2010 training camp battles, part three « Ol' Bag of Donuts

Friendly fire: 2010 training camp battles, part three

Enough about the pretty boys on the offense.

It’s time to shine the spotlight on the tough guys – the defenders.

The Packers have a couple of major battles going on with their defense – none bigger than one in the secondary. And it’s there that we begin part three of our series:

Strong safety

Type of battle: Starting spot

Combatants: Atari Bigby (28 years old, 5-feet, 11-inches, 213 pounds, fifth year) and Morgan Burnett (21 years old, 6-feet, 1-inch, 209 pounds, rookie)

Thoughts: This and the Daryn Colledge/Jason Spitz left guard battle are the two biggest competitions to watch in camp. The only difference here is that one player is an experienced vet, while the other has yet to play a single NFL down.

While not an outstanding player, Bigby – who finally signed his one-year RFA tender Tuesday – is solid in certain facets of his game. He’s normally pretty good against the run and has the potential to make big plays in pass coverage. There are two major drawbacks to Bigby’s game, however: his tendency to get caught flat-footed in coverage and his inability to stay healthy. These have caused him to be simply an average player since his breakout 2007 season. At some point, you wonder how high a player’s ceiling really is; we’re nearing that point with Bigby.

If you read this site regularly – and I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t – you know how much I like Burnett. Even before the Pack traded up in round three to get him, I felt he was a great fit for this defense, due to his natural playmaking skills and knack for coming up with the big turnover. He showcased many of those skills in the minicamps/OTAs, working with the No. 1 defense in place of Bigby. That’s invaluable experience heading into camp. He’s also capable of delivering some big hits (just like Bigby). One thing that he’ll need to correct is his tendency to gamble and reach for the big play when it isn’t there. Still, of all the rookies on this team, he’s the one I’m most excited to see.

Early Edge: Burnett. A rookie? Yes, he is. But his feet are already at least sort of wet. That, combined with an advantage in talent, gives him the nod over Bigby, a player who sat out the entire offseason in a miscalculated attempt to get a long-term deal.

Cornerback

Type of battle: Starting nickel and dime back spots

Combatants: Pat Lee (26 years old, 6-feet, 196 pounds, third year), Brandon “Crusin’ Chubbies” Underwood (24 years old, 6-feet, 1-inch, 191 pounds, second year), Will Blackmon (25 years old, 6-feet, 210 pounds, fifth year), Josh Bell (25 years old, 5-feet, 11-inches, 177 pounds, third year) and Jarrett Bush (26 years old, 6-feet, 200 pounds, fifth year)

Thoughts: First thing’s first: Al Harris will be placed on the PUP list. I’m sure of that. With the severity of his injury – plus his age and the fact that the team plays no real high-powered passing attacks over its first six games – it’s truly the best decision. That doesn’t mean Harris can’t regain his old form, because he certainly can (and should).

But, if that’s the case, that leaves openings for the nickel and dime corner spots. The Packers certainly don’t have a lack of candidates, that’s for sure.

It’s been a tough first two seasons for Lee. Various injuries have limited him to just five regular season games. Granted, it can be hard to project things based on training camp practices/preseason games, but Lee did show some signs of ability there. The biggest thing Lee needs to show – outside of staying healthy, of course - is that he’s able to fit in with the 3-4 scheme, one that employs both man-to-man and zone coverage. Remember, Lee was drafted in the second round in ‘08 as a bump-and-run specialist.

Mr. Chubbies himself, Underwood, has had just about the most up-and-down offseason imaginable. The ups came first as head coach Mike McCarthy couldn’t say enough good things about the progression Underwood made during the minicamps/OTAs. Underwood – who had to transfer to Cincinnati from Ohio State due to academic issues/missing team meetings – then flashed his immaturity in astoundingly stupid fashion (see: the Wisconsin Dells incident). How much has that incident altered Underwood in the coaches eyes?

While he’s listed as a safety on the team’s roster, it sounds like Blackmon will be a corner/safety hybrid this season, able to provide depth at multiple spots. That means he could be in the mix. Blackmon has flashed some ability at the position (he’s also a dangerous return man), but has also struggled with injuries. In fact, that’s an understatement; he’s missed 31 out of a possible 64 regular season games since entering the league. This is a make-or-break season for him. If he wants to continue in the league, he’s got to avoid injuries.

Very little is known about Bell’s abilities. After all, he played in only four games for the Packers last season, recording just three tackles (he also got beat on Nasty Ben’s last-second touchdown pass in the Pittsburgh game). But he’s stuck around this long, so the team must like him a least a little bit, right?

Last, and certainly least, we come to corner/safety/bain of my existence Bush. Once again I was certain he wouldn’t last until camp…and once again I am disappointed. Bush brings a whole lot of nothing to the table (spare me the special teams stuff – he’s not that good there, either). I’m really pulling for Blackmon to make a mark as a hybrid player. If that happens, Bush is gone as the team has no need for two corner/safeties. Fingers are crossed.

Early edge: If there’s one area Ted Thompson may look to upgrade via a trade during camp, it’s here. But seeing as how I can’t predict that, I’ll go with Underwood as the nickel and Lee as the dime. Does Underwood need to grow up? Without question. Also unquestionable is his talent. If he builds on his strong offseason, he’s the most ready to take over the nickel spot. If Lee stays healthy – a massive “if”, I’ll admit – I think the dime job is his. The talent appears to be there. Blackmon could give him a run, but I think he will play the “sixth man” role for the secondary (an important role). Bell sticks as the sixth corner until Harris returns. Bush is cut. If I’m wrong on EVERYTHING else, please let me be right on this.

That’s all for part three. The final part of our series will be up Friday.

Anyone else getting excited for this thing to finally tee off?

-Chris Lempesis

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