Preseason Battle: Peprah vs. Burnett

With the preseason opener on Saturday, Morgan Burnett and Charlie Peprah talk about their battle to be the starting safety opposite Nick Collins. Both men have a right to the job. Burnett shouldn't lose it because of injury and Peprah shouldn't lose it after helping the Packers win the Super Bowl.

Morgan Burnett was the Green Bay Packers' starting strong safety until tearing an ACL in the Week 4 game against Detroit.

Charlie Peprah replaced Burnett in the lineup and helped the Packers win the Super Bowl.

Both men can make a legitimate claim that they should be atop the depth chart, but only one can be in the lineup opposite Pro Bowler Nick Collins.

Heading into Saturday night's preseason opener at Cleveland, that's Burnett.

"The competition makes you better so you enjoy the competition," Burnett told Packer Report this week. "At the same time, you've got guys like Charlie that are very helpful. He teaches you a lot of things. He's a vet in my eyes. You listen to a lot of things Charlie says because he's a great safety. Same thing with Nick."

Burnett was the Packers' hand-picked safety in the 2010 draft, with general manager Ted Thompson surrendering a fourth-round pick to move up 15 slots in the third round. As such, they'd clearly love it if he won the job and played like he did at Georgia Tech, where he intercepted 14 passes during his three seasons.

His rookie season got off to a promising start, including an instinctive interception in the Week 2 game against Buffalo. Because of incumbent starter Atari Bigby's contract dispute and eventual ankle surgery, Burnett lined up with the starters immediately. By defensive coordinator Dom Capers' count, Burnett took more than 1,500 reps between offseason, training camp and the first month of the season. So, while he might be lacking in game experience, he's seen plenty during his year-plus with the Packers.

He stayed involved and kept learning after the injury by staying in Green Bay and attending the meetings and taking "mental reps." So, while Saturday night's game will be his first live action in almost 10 months, Burnett says he's a better player now than before.

"Just working to get better," Burnett said. "I'm not trying to compare the years but trying to find ways to look at yourself on film, see how you lined up, see how you played certain routes and sitting down with the coaches to see how you can get better."

The knock on Burnett, both at Georgia Tech and at times with the Packers, was he lacked the physicality teams desire at the position. That's an opinion not necessarily shared by Capers.

"I think he'll be plenty physical," Capers said. "I like Morgan. I like his demeanor. I think he's very steady, very serious. You need a guy who can make all of those calls because you see so much different shifting and motions and all of those things. I think he'll be able to handle all that. He's certainly a good enough athlete and has pretty good ball skills. It's too bad he got hurt when he did. He would have been a guy, much like you saw with Sam Shields, you would have seen him play his best football in the second half of the season."


Charlie Peprah
Alan Maglaquie/US Presswire
Instead, it was Peprah holding down the fort for the final 16 games after starting just one game during his first four seasons in the league. His two passes defensed against the Jets were arguably the biggest plays of the 9-0 victory, and in the must-win finale against Chicago, he thwarted a drive with an interception in the end zone.

"I've always liked Charlie because Charlie can go in there and make all the calls and adjustments," Capers said. "He's kind of Mr. Steady. You have to have a guy like that. I think Morgan can do those same things as far as making calls, but that's one of Charlie's strengths. The guy ends up being in the right place most of the time. He's going to fill the right gap. He's going to play his techniques. Over a period of time, you gain confidence in those guys. If you want to be a really good defensive team, you've got to have two or three difference-makers and you've got to have a lot of guys who are really good at playing their role. If you have that, then you have a chance to have a pretty good defense."

Peprah, who opened camp as the starter but quickly fell behind Burnett on the depth chart, repeatedly took the high road during an interview on Thursday.

"I don't know if ‘surprised' is the word I'd use," he said. "He was a starter last year. Unfortunately, he got hurt. He deserves the right to be put back out there."

When pointed out that he had little to prove after playing so well last season, Peprah said: "I don't know why you're telling that to me. I know that. It was Morgan's job last year. He lost it due to injury so why not let him retain it? You don't lose your job to injury. He earned it last year; we'll see how he does this year."

Peprah's perspective comes from experience. He was the Giants' fifth-round pick in 2006 but didn't make the team and was claimed on waivers by the Packers. He played in 37 games during his first three seasons but sustained a knee injury during training camp in 2009 and eventually was released with an injury settlement. He played in just two games for Atlanta in 2009 before returning to Green Bay last offseason.

Rather than battling Burnett for the starting job, Peprah is battling with himself. And if his performance is high by his standards but not good enough to be the starter, than so be it.

"Every year, it's more of a personal battle for me," Peprah said. "How good can I get? How much more can I improve? Depending on how that goes, I'll let them draw up the seating chart."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.


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