Bubble Series: Safeties

Not only are roster spots up for grabs on Thursday but so is the starting job opposite Morgan Burnett. Rookie Jerron McMillian will get the start against the Chiefs, putting him in prime position to be the starter in Week 1 against San Francisco.

The Green Bay Packers' preseason finale against Kansas City is all about the bubble.

By our estimation, there are six positions where roster spots are at stake: running back, wide receiver, offensive line, defensive line, inside linebacker and safety.

"Make a statement," was coach Mike McCarthy's advice to those bubble players. "Define yourself, answer a question that's out there about you. Is it consistency? Is it big-play ability? There's different categories you use when you grade and evaluate players, and obviously some players do things better than others. If you can show improvement and show growth and more value, that's what you look for in these game environments."


The situation: Not only is a starting position in the nickel and dime defenses up for grabs, but so presumably are roster spots.

Jerron McMillian, the fourth-round pick from Maine, will get the starting nod against the Chiefs. He follows M.D. Jennings (San Diego and Cleveland) and Anthony Levine (Kansas City) in the rotation as the Packers will take the position battle to the bitter end.

"It means a lot but it just seems the coaches are little more confident in myself and that just makes me more confident," McMillian said.

Did the Packers save the best for last in the three-man derby? Is the starting job within reach for the small-school rookie?

"We're going to make sure that the guy that performs at the highest level is going to be that guy," safeties coach Darren Perry said, deflecting a question on whether the job was McMillian's to lose. "Right now, you've got a group of guys that are real close and it's going to come down to the last game, like we thought from Day 1. It'll be a tough decision to make."

We pegged McMillian as the favorite to win the job from the get-go. A sleeper draft pick who didn't even expect to get invited to the Scouting Combine, McMillian packs a punch at the line of scrimmage, has the cover skills to be a potential slot cornerback in dime and the speed to roam center field. It's unfair to compare McMillian to Nick Collins, a three-time Pro Bowler with elite ballhawking skills, but they share the same basic skill-set.

"He has (come on strong) but he's still learning," Perry said. "We're all young back there. We have to keep learning and growing from our mistakes and building on the things that we've done well but be critical enough to know that we have a ways to go. We need to understand that the more snaps that these guys get, the better they're going to be because they're just so short on experience."

The prediction: There was never much doubt that McMillian would make the roster. Assuming Jennings and Levine lose out on their bids to start alongside Morgan Burnett, who joins McMillian and Burnett (and Charles Woodson in the base defense) on the roster? Jennings is a fixture on special teams, which gives him a slight edge. Levine, in his third camp with the team, probably rates a very small underdog to undrafted rookie Sean Richardson. Both have special teams value but general manager Ted Thompson tends to turn over the bottom of his roster, with youth almost always the deciding factor.

Whoever makes the team, will this unit be better than last year's, which struggled after Collins' career-threatening neck injury?

"I think the jury is still out but I think the potential is there," Perry said. "We won't know that until we get into these games and see how these guys handle it."

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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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