Veteran safety 'leads by example'

With the Packers' defense still coming together in just its second minicamp under new defensive coordinator Jim Bates, one player over all others may have a step up on the competition.

Arturo Freeman, a free agent pickup on April 15 from the Miami Dolphins, is part of the Packers reclamation project at the safety position, and he is using this minicamp to help his teammates learn a defensive scheme that he is quite familiar with. After all, he was a regular starter with the Dolphins the first five years of his NFL career (2000-2004), all under Bates. That gives him a big advantage.

"I'm trying to lead by example on the field," said Freeman. "Putting guys in positions to make plays and keeping the communication lines open, that's what I was used to in Miami playing with veterans like Brock (Marion), Sam Madison, and Patrick Surtain, knowing that the safeties can get it going. They thrive off the corners as far as being on the same level."

Freeman said that the Packers' top cornerback, Al Harris, has told him this minicamp that he is already starting to get comfortable working with him. With an open competition at safety that includes only one holdover from a year ago, Mark Roman, communication will be crucial to the Packers' safeties and cornerbacks avoid breakdowns.

Because Freeman has so much experience under Bates' scheme, he would appear to be a natural fit to win one of the starting safety spots when the regular season begins for the Packers on Sept. 11.

"There is no reason why I can't be," he said. "I was brought in to continue playing. I was in the top-five safety class in free agency. You can't control free agency, when it shuts down, it shuts down, but you do what you have to do. That's the only reason I came here, to continue playing and not worry about competition or any of that stuff because at the end of the day, I know what it takes to win. I've won, and I've proved myself in this defense."

Bates is rotating different safety tandems into the defense this week and said he will likely continue to do so into training camp. On Thursday, Freeman paired primarily with free agent veteran Earl Little and Roman, while rookies Nick Collins and Marviel Underwood teamed together.

"We're giving all those veterans an opportunity to show what they can do," said Bates. "It wouldn't be fair to put them at third unit, yet we wanted to put the two rookies together. We want to give them the calls. We're putting the heat on them to make the calls and be able to learn the defense at a faster rate."

Though it is early, Freeman also speaks like he wants to assume a leadership role in the secondary, something the unit has lacked since the departure of LeRoy Butler.

"The safeties have to be in charge of the defense," he said. "They have to be the eyes, and there has to be a lot of communication going on."

Freeman had his best season statistically of his career a year ago when he had seven passes defended and four interceptions. He was always a big part of the Dolphins' secondary, though he was overshadowed by Madison and Surtain. That did not seem to bother him much, though, and he plans to continue to play in the same manner with the Packers.

"I take pride in the fact that I can put people in position to make plays," he said. "I make the right check so that the defense can flow. In the end, that's how you usually win games."

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