Camp spotlight: Mark Roman

Someone hand that man a Greek-to-English dictionary. Pronto.

Assuming Brett Favre stays healthy enough to keep Tim Couch a considerable distance from the offensive huddle, the Packers' only free-agent signing of significance will be safety Mark Roman. And if Roman wants to attain the starting position it's assumed he'll win, then he needs to get familiar with the defense's lingo. Yesterday, if not sooner.

The Packers return 21 of 22 starters from a year ago. That means the biggest training-camp battle will be Roman facing third-year player Marques Anderson for the right to line up opposite Darren Sharper at safety. Because Anderson suffered through a sophomore funk while leading the team in missed tackles, it's presumed Roman will earn the starting gig held last year by the departed Antuan Edwards. For now, though, all Roman cares about is familiarizing himself with the changing terminology that comes with changing teams.

Roman, who signed for three years and $2.75 million during the off-season, was pleased with the strides he made during the second minicamp compared to his first go-round after the draft.

"It's 100 percent easier because now I know what they're saying when they say something," Roman said. "I know the defense now so everything is not Greek to me. It's transferring over into English. With that, I'm starting to play a little faster and starting to react a little bit more."

"I need to start thinking and talking like the way they do over here," he added.

Roman and Anderson alternated the starting duties on a daily basis during the June minicamp, and that split of the first-team reps figures to continue well into training camp.

Roman started all 16 games for the improved Bengals last season, picking off his only pass in Week 1 against Denver. In the season-ending loss to Cleveland, Roman tallied a season-high 11 tackles. A second-round draft choice out of Louisiana State University, the fifth-year pro spent his first three seasons with Cincinnati at cornerback.

At 5-foot-11 and 184 pounds, he's 25 pounds lighter than Anderson. While Roman may lack the thunder to be a physical presence at the line of scrimmage — something the Packers like in their safeties — Roman has plenty of experience playing cornerback, giving the Packers versatility, the ability to blitz their corners and extra time to prepare cover men Ahmad Carroll and Joey Thomas.

In essence, starting Anderson gives the Packers a more physical presence and a player who during his rookie season showed a knack for making plays. Roman, on the other hand, is more versatile, and while not a big hitter, he's been a more sure tackler in his career.

None of this will matter, however, if Roman doesn't come to training camp totally engrossed in the defensive scheme, says LeRoy Butler, who starred at safety for the Packers and is now a de facto assistant coach.

"He has to know everything when he leaves this minicamp to make a difference, because you don't push and make a difference during training camp," Butler said during the June minicamp. "You do it now. He knows that more than anybody. He started 16 games, so he knows."

Roman agrees, and said he was making strides and feeling more comfortable with his new teammates.

"It's a learning process, and once I have everything down, I'll be fine," Roman said. "The terminology really is the main thing. I'm doing most of the same things as (in Cincinnati) but I just have to get the terminology down and start talking the same talk as everybody else, so when they try to explain things you understand it. That's the majority of it. Once I learn the terminology, I'll be all right."

With Anderson in tip-top shape, a year wiser and hungry after a disappointing second season, Roman realizes the starting job isn't going to be handed to him. That means every practice, every snap, will be critical.

"I take that viewpoint every time I head out on the field," Roman said. "You've got to make it happen like it's your last chance out there because you never know what's going to happen the next play. You've got to treat every chance you get, from now up through training camp, like you're fighting for that position."

Again, it all boils down to knowledge and playing mistake-free football. Under new defensive coordinator Bob Slowik, the Packers are expected to play a more aggressive brand of football. That means more blitzing. With Sharper the defense's premier playmaker, whoever mans the other safety position will be counted on to be in the right place to prevent the home run. One misstep by Roman or one botched tackle by Anderson will be the difference between a 20-yard pickup and a backbreaking touchdown.

"What we've got there is two guys with the ability to be starters in the league," new defensive backs coach Kurt Schottenheimer said. "We'll go into those exhibition games, we'll see which guy plays with the most poise, has the most confidence and actually communicates the best with the group, who plays better against the run and the pass and then we'll make a decision."

Editor's Note. This is the third of a four-part series profiling key players battling for spots in the secondary, the position that is the Packers' biggest question mark. This series includes stories on Ahmad Carroll, Joey Thomas and Marques Anderson.

Packer Report Top Stories