Freeman's familiarity helps

If there is a front-runner at this point of the year for a starting spot at safety, it would be veteran Arturo Freeman. But just because he has played in Jim Bates' defense doesn't make him a shoe-in for the job.

Freeman, entering his sixth season in the NFL after spending his first five with the Miami Dolphins, will be competing against veterans Earl Little and Todd Franz, and rookies Nick Collins and Marviel Underwood for a starting spot next to Mark Roman. Tennessee's Lance Shulters, who may become a salary cap casualty after June 1, also may be thrown into the mix at safety.

The Packers released starting safety Darren Sharper in a salary cap move in March and cut backup Michael Hawthorne. Green Bay also allowed backup Bhawoh Jue to sign with San Diego in free agency, leaving one starting spot wide open and backup spots as well.

Freeman, however, has an edge on his competition as the team prepares for training camp with a minicamp this week and next week because he is familiar with the terminology of Bates' defense. He also knows the role of the safeties within the system.

"There are certain things that come natural to him as far as the calls and everything," said defensive backs coach Joe Baker. "Some guys have to grind it out a little bit or think through it. With him, it's natural."

Freeman, 28, played in all 16 games last season and started nine, including the last seven of the season after former Packer Antuan Edwards was released. He had 38 tackles and a career-high four interceptions.

"Sometimes at that position, you may not get the notoriety that the ‘corners' might get," Freeman said. "I played in this system in Miami with Pat Surtain and Sam (Madison). They are Pro Bowlers, but you never heard about myself or Brock Marion. The corners should be smiling." A fifth-round draft pick of Miami in 2000, Freeman played there under Bates, who held that post with the Dolphins for 4 1/2 years before taking over as coach for the last seven games of last season following the firing of Dave Wannstedt.

In Bates' five years in Miami, Freeman started 29 of the 72 games in which he played, including nine last season after former Packer Antuan Edwards was released in mid-season.

"It's not a hard system to learn. It's football," Freeman said. "Coach Bates makes it simple. The terminology is probably the hardest thing, but it's a good system."


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