Edwards Dominating in Green Bay

The Packers won't admit it, but former Clemson standout Antuan Edwards, barring a significant injury or reversal of form, has beaten out Marques Anderson and will open the regular season as the starting strong safety.

Edwards, a first-round draft choice in 1999, has outperformed Anderson in the 3 1/2 weeks of training camp and been a more mature, steadying influence on the entire defense.

The Packers keep saying the competition is open, and even last week the two players have received equal practice time with the No. 1 offense. But that will have to end soon so Edwards can work full-time with the starters.

"I kind of have an idea but no decision," coach Mike Sherman said when asked if he was ready to name a starter. Several people close to the situation made it clear this week that the job was Edwards' to lose over the last two exhibition games.

Edwards, 26, has been more physical on a daily basis and taken better angles to the football. There are questions about Anderson's approach to the game and his tackling, which became borderline awful late in his rookie year as a 12-game starter. His camp has been considered a disappointment. Reggie McKenzie, the club's director of pro personnel, said Anderson still would have a chance to get back into the hunt if he improved against the run.

"With him, it's not a question of being scared, because he is strong and physical," McKenzie said. "From what I see it's more the proper angles and the technique on getting there. To me, all the stuff he needs to do to continue to compete, he can improve on."

It has been an old-fashioned kind of battle which, for a change, has not been affected by injury. Neither player has missed a single practice.

"Antuan's been solid," McKenzie said. "I'm happy to see Antuan on the field every practice." Edwards, with his original five-year contract expiring at year's end, is fighting for his football future in Green Bay. Stay healthy and have a good season, and Edwards could be in line for a respectable new deal with the Packers or elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent.

Defensive coordinator Ed Donatell said he was pleased with the progress of both players. He also disagreed with the assertion that the Packers still haven't found a suitable replacement for LeRoy Butler, who had to retire in July 2002.

"We have the players to win at safety," Donatell said. "It's not going to keep us from winning football games. It's going to help us win football games." A tipoff that the Packers weren't content with Edwards and Anderson was their pursuit in May of former Pro Bowl safety Sammy Knight, an unrestricted free agent from New Orleans, and the move of Bryant Westbrook from cornerback to safety a week into training camp.

Although the Packers denied Knight's claim that Green Bay offered more money than Miami, they were trying hard to arrange a visit when he signed a two-year, $2.38 million contract ($300,000 signing bonus) with the Dolphins on May 13. Knight and Arturo Freeman, the Dolphins' 16-game starter at strong safety last year, split time for the first 10 days of training camp before Knight won the job.

"His style is different than our guys," McKenzie said. "He's more of a blow 'em up guy. He can't cover nearly as good as our guys, especially Antuan with having those corner skills. Sammy Knight has a presence and a whole lot of intangibles but from an upgrade standpoint, it's hard to say."

Westbrook was beginning to emerge as a viable candidate to become the No. 1 strong safety when he suffered a season-ending torn Achilles' tendon in Atlanta. "I just think they're journeymen guys, at best," said one scout after watching tape of the Packers' two games.

"That's probably being being nice, calling them journeymen. If I had to take a guy I would take Edwards. Without any question."

The personnel man said Edwards had been more involved in the games.

"Edwards isn't the most physical guy but he does make plays," the scout said. "Not great plays but they were plays. I just think there's 100 guys just like him throughout the league.

"The other guy (Anderson) is kind of a false courage kind of guy. He's a grab and reach tackler and he showed no drive and close in his coverage. One time he had Warrick Dunn on the sideline and instead of really unloading on him he reached out and grabbed him by the neck or shoulder pads and twirled him around."

McKenzie thinks about the starting safeties in the NFC North, including Minnesota's Willie Offord and Corey Chavous, Chicago's Mike Brown and Mike Green and Detroit's Corey Harris and Brian Walker, and doesn't feel the Packers have a problem with Edwards.

"No, not at all," he said.

Although Anderson might have slightly better ball skills than Edwards, both players have questionable speed and range, according to the scout. Edwards has undergone turf toe surgery in 1999 and reconstructive knee surgery in 2001.

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