Whitticker stays in starting lineup

After saying on Saturday that he wanted to pick starters at the open positions of guard and safety this week, Packers coach Mike Sherman had rookie seventh-round pick Will Whitticker starting at right guard, free-agent pickup Adrian Klemm at left guard, and Nick Collins and Mark Roman at safety during Sunday's practice.

"I think we'll figure out some things in practice," Sherman said Saturday. "And then we'll start gearing it toward the guys we things are going to be the guys."

Whitticker earned a shot with the first team during practice last week, and drew positive reviews for his play against the San Diego Chargers, although the running game generally struggled during Thursday's preseason opener.

Whitticker, Atlas Herrion and Matt O'Dwyer have been rotating into the starting group at right guard, while Klemm and Grey Ruegamer have been rotating at left guard. It wasn't clear if Sunday's first-stringers were just part of the rotation, or if they had won, for the moment at least, starting jobs.

Speaking of Ruegamer, he was back at center on Sunday. Ruegamer started the final 11 games of last season in place of injured center Mike Flanagan but had been playing guard throughout camp. With Ruegamer at center, second-year player Scott Wells was shifted to center from guard. They played together with the second unit.

At safety, Collins and Roman were working with the No. 1 defense. They were the starters during Thursday's game against San Diego. Roman started last season while Collins, a second-round pick, has more talent than the other safeties fighting for a job, Roman and veteran free-agent signing Earl Little. The other veteran contender, Arturo Freeman, was surprisingly released on Sunday.

Sherman likely will base his decision on whether Collins shows this week he can handle the mental side of the game.

Also working with the No. 1 defense was Ahmad Carroll. Carroll, last year's starter and first-round pick, opened camp behind Joey Thomas, but Thomas injured his calf during the third day of practice and returned to the practice field for the first time Sunday. He was rusty, getting beaten by the likes of Craig Bragg and Vince Butler during 7-on-7 passing drills.

"Joey missed a lot of time," defensive coordinator Jim Bates said. "The thing he did do is he left on a high note. He played excellent football in the last opportunity session, the last minicamp and the little practice time we had with him here. He is behind, no question about it. We have to get him caught up."

Also back on the practice field were defensive tackle James Lee, linebacker Brady Poppinga and cornerback Chris Johnson.

Lee (knee) and the rookie Poppinga (hamstring) were injured early in camp. As long as Grady Jackson remains out, Lee's presence is critical since he's one of the few big men with experience on the roster. Jackson, for his part, remains out indefinitely. He injured his hamstring last week, Sherman said, and hasn't practiced at all.

"These big guys, you have to be careful with them or you're not going to have them for the season," Sherman said, explaining why he has been hesitant to get Jackson, who is coming off a knee injury last season and offseason knee surgery, on the field to get his first taste of Jim Bates' defense.

Poppinga had an up-and-down practice, at one moment getting beaten badly on a bootleg route to Ben Steele, and at another moment busting through a wall of blockers to thwart a screen.

Johnson participated in his first training camp practice time since 2003. A seventh-round pick that year, Johnson was having a spectacular camp before suffering a season-ending knee injury. He tried to come back for 2004, but a stress fracture of his shin ended his season during minicamp.

Johnson wasn't tested often Sunday, but he looked plenty fast enough while blanketing Andrae Thurman and Antonio Chatman on go routes. Speed has never been an issue for Johnson, who was the fastest player in the 2003 draft. His true test will come when his change-of-direction skills are tested.

Also of note:

— Tight end remains a huge problem for the Packers. While David Martin — who is starting while Bubba Franks continues to sit while asking for a long-term contract — made a nice catch on a corner route thrown by Brett Favre, but Ben Steele dropped two passes, and Sean McHugh dropped one pass and fumbled after a catch and run.

— Here's a pass-and-catch connection you surely won't see during the season. Sherman took full advantage of a couple of days without practice to scheme up some gadget plays. One of them was a fake punt, with running back Derrick Johnese throwing a pass to punter B.J. Sander.

— Second-year player Donnell Washington lined up with Corey Williams as the starting defensive tackles. Washington replaced Colin Cole in the lineup. Cole had a rough night against San Diego. Cole and Washington are manning the position owned by Jackson.

Sherman also called a couple fake field goals. One was a handoff to Steele, and another had William Henderson lining up at quarterback and running a keeper out of a full-house backfield.

Jackson will slim down to 200 pounds before either of those plays sees the light of day in a game situation.

Ryan Longwell took a direct snap out of the field-goal formation and pooched a punt that rolled inside the 5-yard line.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to Packerreport.com. Send comments to steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com

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