Safety position still a question

Roman, Collins appear to have edge to start, but that could change

The Green Bay Packers entered training camp with plenty of questions on defense, one being the safety position. Who would rise from a non-descript group and open the 2005 season as the starters?

Most believed Arturo Freeman, signed as a free agent from Miami, had the edge on one position after playing for defensive coordinator Jim Bates in Miami. The other position, well, nobody really knew.

As we enter the midway point in camp, things have changed. Freeman, surprisingly was waived by the Packers. A contributor in Miami's defense, Freeman was outplayed by the likes of Mark Roman, rookie Nick Collins, and others.

To most, this wasn't forecasted, at least not entering camp.

So here we are in mid-August, two games into the preseason, and the Packers' starting safeties are Roman and Collins with Earl Little and rookie Marviel Underwood chasing? That's a far cry from the LeRoy Butler-Eugene Robinson combination during the Super Bowl years. Or the Butler-Darren Sharper combo which followed.

The starting combination, whatever it is in Week 1, is about as scary as Ahmad Carroll playing Randy Moss one-on-one.

Saturday's game led to nothing being settled, although coach Mike Sherman said he wanted to name his starters after the game in which Buffalo outclassed the Packers 27-7.

If Sherman sticks to his guns, he'll likely name Collins and Roman, and both players would be making a statement in achieving this honor.

After signing as a free agent last year, Roman was awful in 2004. He showed nothing, which was one reason why the Packers drafted Collins in the second round. However, to Roman's credit he has made strides in Bates' scheme and maybe is better suited to do what Bates wants him to do rather then what former defensive coordinator Bob Slowik wanted.

Collins was a reach in the minds of many draft gurus. A Bethune Cookman alum, Collins was projected as a sixth-round pick, or in the area. But the Packers gambled and so far the gamble seems to be paying off.

Collins intercepted a pass in the first pre-season game, albeit a terrible throw by Drew Brees, but Collins was where a safety needs to be on a deep passing play – playing centerfield.

As the Packers prepared to play Buffalo on Saturday in their second pre-season game, the job was Roman's and Collins' to lose. Although they have been good stories this summer, let's not hand them the starting job just yet.

Roman, who missed the game with an injury, has been a journeyman player. He's average at best, won't make people remember Butler or Sharper and has plenty of shortcomings. Still, he has taken advantage of a second chance, when some thought the Packers might waive him in the off-season.

To his credit, he deserves credit for persevering. The safety positions were wide open when camp started and he jumped on a second chance.

As for Collins, he's wearing No. 36, which hasn't been on the back of any player since Butler retired. This number wasn't given to Collins without thought. General manager Ted Thompson gave the number to Collins, because of what he thinks of him as a player. Nobody expects Collins to play to Butler's level, but maybe this is a sign.

Another connection Collins has is with Sharper. Both played Division 1-AA college football and when both were drafted not much was known about either. If Collins follows Sharper's legacy, that wouldn't be bad either.

My wild card in all this is Underwood. There's something about this fourth-rounder from San Diego State. Even though he may start the season on the bench, don't be surprised if he unseats Roman and gives the Packers starting rookie safeties midway through the season. He just looks like he knows what to do and needs a little seasoning to make a move.

If this does happen, though, it may not be a good sign for the Packers. How many playoff teams have starting rookie safeties?

It has to happen sometime, right?

The Packers have to make do with what they have, and at safety what they have is plenty of questions and few answers. No question in Week 1 at Detroit with the like of Roy Williams, Charles Rogers and Mike Williams, the Packers will get an early understanding of what this position will be like.

Keep your fingers crossed because that may be the only hope the Packers have.

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