Bigby, who skipped all of the offseason work in a contract dispute and then needed ankle surgery, must remain on the physically unable to perform list through at least Week 6. As a veteran who knows the scheme and has been in on all of the defensive meetings, Bigby will know what he's doing and safeties coach Darren Perry said he "would not put it past" Bigby to be in the starting lineup immediately. Still, Perry said Bigby won't be able to get into a rhythm "overnight." That means some growing pains for a defense that hasn't exactly been playing air-tight football.
Bigby hasn't taken a rep, in a practice or game, since leaving the wild card loss at Arizona with an injured hamstring. That's more than nine-and-a-half months between that game and the Oct. 24 showdown against Minnesota. That seems daunting.
"It is, but that's what these guys get paid to do," Perry said. "When you decide to miss the OTAs and the offseason, you know what you're setting yourself up for. With that, I'm not too concerned about Atari missing out and losing a lot in terms of not being here for the offseason. He knows what's at stake. Usually when guys are put in situations like that, particularly through their own decisions, they'll usually end up responding."
Until then, where do the Packers turn?
Choice No. 1: Charlie Peprah
Peprah was listed as the third safety but has been out with a calf injury. The fifth-year pro entered this season with only one start, which came in place of Bigby in 2008. He's exceptionally smart and physical and almost won the job in a battle with Bigby in 2007.
"Charlie's been consistent from Day 1," Perry said. "He was probably one of our most consistent players throughout training camp and the preseason, so we felt really good about Charlie being a backup player for us and if we had someone go down, we felt very comfortable about him going in and being that guy. That hasn't changed. Some nagging injuries here and there, but hopefully we can get him healthy. He understands the situation."
Choice No. 2: Derrick Martin
With Peprah and Burnett out, it was Martin who stepped in, just like he did at Chicago when Nick Collins exited briefly. Perry said Martin did "fine" against Detroit but would have liked to have seen him be more physical and "scratch and claw" to rip the ball away from Calvin Johnson on his jump-ball touchdown late in the first half.
Martin, who's also a fifth-year player, has made four starts, but only one at safety — at Minnesota last year, when his mental mistakes were pounced on by Brett Favre. In his defense, he had only been with the team for a month. Now, he's much more familiar with the scheme.
"It's always tough, when you get thrown in the mix there and you really haven't (taken a lot of practice reps," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "Now, that's the status of a backup player. He's got to be ready to go with not a lot of reps. I think Derrick did fine. I think he probably learned a lot from watching the tape today in terms of the game yesterday."
Choice No. 3: Go shopping
The 49ers got rid of Michael Lewis, for instance, but by the time a new player could get up to speed on the playbook and terminology and the on-the-fly checks that are the difference between a pass breakup and allowing a touchdown, Bigby will be ready. So, for better or worse, it's up to Peprah and/or Martin.
Choice No. 4: Get creative
Last year, Martin was acquired in a cutdown-weekend trade. Showing that you can't just plug a guy off the street in at that position, Capers got creative and put linebacker Brandon Chillar at safety in the "Big Okie" scheme in Week 3 at St. Louis. Cornerback Charles Woodson also has played some safety. Both options could make sense for next week's game against Washington and the following week against Miami, both of which are more physical than finesse on offense and lack big-time threats at receiver. Chillar, however, is battling a bad shoulder and moving Woodson off of the corner probably would be dependent on whether rookie cornerback Sam Shields is healthy.
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