Surprise moves a blessing and curse

Arturo Freeman we hardly knew ya. Will Matt O'Dwyer be the next veteran to be released? The Green Bay Packers made a couple of surprise moves as they resumed practice Sunday at Clarke Hinkle Field. The first was the release of Freeman, who was brought to Green Bay to stabilize the defensive backfield. The other was the promotion of a rookie at right guard.

Freeman's departure was very surprising. And it sure seems like another sign that the Packers are rebuilding their team this season, not reloading for a serious playoff run. Taking Freeman's place is none other than rookie second-round pick Nick Collins, who has been promoted to the starting lineup at safety next to Mark Roman.

Collins has played well in training camp thus far and had an interception off a broken play in Green Bay's first preseason game, but the Packers evidently are prepared to live and die with his mistakes this season. Freeman has a much better command of coordinator Jim Bates' defense, but that wasn't enough for the Packers to keep the sixth-year cornerback around. Collins will have to learn on the run. Packers fans can only hope that he learns fast.

Dropping Freeman is questionable for a unit that needs more stability. Apparently the coaches are comfortable enough with Collins at this point to give him the starting nod. If he fails, veteran Earl Little is in the wings.

With Freeman out, Little likely has secured a roster spot, along with Roman, Collins and rookie Marviel Underwood. It is evident that the Packers prefer Little, a 32-year-old, eighth-year pro, over Freeman, 28, because of Little's ability to play special teams.

"We just felt like it was an opportunity for (Freeman) to go find work somewhere else, and in fairness to him, we felt we were in a position to do that," Packers coach Mike Sherman said. "It's just the way we've done business in the past if we have a veteran player. We feel like we wanted to get Marviel and some other guys some more work, and we didn't want him to be unable to find work somewhere else."

Whitticker in, O'Dwyer out?
O'Dwyer, 32, entered camp as the starter at right guard, but the 11th-year pro has not shown that he is the clear-cut favorite. Thus, he has been replaced. O'Dwyer has been bothered by a neck injury and missed practices early in camp. Then he committed two penalties in the preseason game against San Diego, which didn't help his cause.

Whitticker, a seventh-round pick from Michigan State has quietly moved up the depth chart and gained the confidence of line coach Larry Beightol. Enough confidence to be thrust into the starting lineup. If he holds up in upcoming preseason games against Buffalo and New England, he'll be the starter Sept. 11 against Detroit. If not, the Packers probably will go with veteran Grey Ruegamer at right guard.

It is not the first time the Packers inserted a rookie along the offensive line. Adam Timmerman, also a seventh-round pick of the Packers, was inserted into the starting lineup during his first year in the league in 1995.

Still, the move is surprising, and even took Whitticker off-guard.

"I'm very surprised," Whitticker said after practice Sunday. "I never would have thought of this. You have to realize that being a seventh-round draft pick and even being close to being (an undrafted) free agent, I'm just fortunate what I've been doing so far.

"Now, I just have to continue and just rise up to everybody's playing level now."

With Whitticker in, the Packers probably will release O'Dwyer within the next three weeks. Adrian Klemm seems to have the left guard position nailed down. Ruegamer provides the line with experience in case of an injury.

Other top candidates for the guard positions include Atlas Herrion and fifth-round pick Junius Coston.

Inserting youth into the lineup is a blessing and a curse. If they are any good, the Packers may have hit on some longtime starters. However, expect them to endure some growing pains, which may cost Green Bay a few victories this season.


Todd Korth

Note: Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at packrepted@aol.com.


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