Some veterans on the chopping block

The Green Bay Packers will reduce their roster to 53 players Saturday as they head into the 2005 regular season. Tonight's final preseason game against the Tennessee Titans will provide the last opportunity for those in question to impress.

This week in practice, head coach Mike Sherman said that there are several positions still to be won, which makes this meaningless exhibition against the Titans critical for a handful of players. The Packers have already made a couple of notable moves in training camp. They have released two of their top free agent signings, safety Arturo Freeman and offensive guard Matt O'Dwyer, and their starting strong-side linebacker over the past two seasons, Hannibal Navies.

Other surprise moves could follow this weekend in what could be a year of transition for the Packers. The following details five players who could be let go and who would be most likely to replace them.

1. Tony Fisher – Originally an undrafted free agent in 2002, Fisher has been a great find and a dependable backup running back the past three years in Green Bay. The Packers know what they have in Fisher, and he has certainly done nothing on game days to give up his spot. What may make him expendable, however, is the intrigue surrounding third-year back Walt Williams.

Williams has had a good camp and may be a better runner than Fisher. He spent last season primarily on the practice squad with the Packers, but got a brief chance to play against the Texans last year. In that game, he showed a burst, like he has done in camp this year, before spraining his ankle. He spent the remainder of the year on injured reserve. Packers' personnel staff will have to be convinced that Williams can perform as a blocker, pass receiver, and special teams performer to win a spot as a third running back because that will be his primary role. He will have plenty of opportunity against the Titans.

2. Antonio Chatman – The diminutive Chatman, at just 5-feet-9, has been the Packers' primary return man on special teams for the past two seasons and has improved as a No. 4 receiver, even gaining the confidence of Brett Favre. His big-play ability as a returner, however, has been non-existent. He has been in a battle with second-year wide receiver Andrae Thurman, who has gotten ample opportunity in the preseason to return kicks (even with a broken thumb), and has shown some potential (26.8 yards per kick return). If the Packers think Thurman can provide them a bigger threat in the return game, Chatman might be released. Thurman would then likely be the No. 5 receiver, with rookie second-round pick Terrence Murphy holding down the No. 4 spot (when healthy enough to do so).

However, Murphy is expected to miss Week One because of a knee injury he sustained in mid-August, so both Chatman and Thurman could start the season on the 53-man roster.

3. Mark Roman – Roman had a tough first season in Green Bay culminated by a verbal sideline confrontation with teammates in a playoff loss to the Vikings. Roman has put that behind him this year, but could be the odd-man out in the competition at strong safety. Eight-year veteran Earl Little could supplant him as the starter with rookie Marviel Underwood as a backup.

Hard-hitting rookie Nick Collins looks like he will win the starting spot at free safety. What could determine if Roman makes the team is whether the others at safety can play both positions, and whether Todd Franz has impressed enough to win a backup spot at free safety. If either of those situations cannot be met, then Roman must stay for depth reasons.

4. Nick Luchey – The Packers signed Luchey as a free agent in 2003 to a six-year contract to become their fullback of the future, but he has been unable to supplant starter William Henderson. Luchey does give the Packers options on offense with his size and versatility, but second-year fullback Vonta Leach may make more sense as a special teams' performer and cost-effective backup fullback. With Henderson still going strong in his 11th season, taking a chance on Leach is not a gamble. He will need to have a strong showing against the Titans on Saturday to leave a lasting mark with the coaches and staff.

5. Cletidus Hunt Hunt has spent most of training camp on the sidelines due to sore knees and a bad shoulder which raises the question of what the Packers should do next with him. He really has done nothing to win back his starting defensive tackle spot this off-season. He has missed both minicamps and most of training camp. Furthermore, his play last year did not live up to his hefty salary.

The Packers will take a salary cap hit by letting him go, but that may be the best in the long run. The Packers cleared some cap room by releasing Freeman, O'Dwyer, and Navies, which could help absorb some of the hit taken by releasing Hunt. Corey Williams is the most deserving player to take Hunt's spot in the starting lineup and would be an improvement.


Matt Tevsh

Editor's note: Matt Tevsh lives in Green Bay and is entering his 10th season covering the Green Bay Packers for Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com.


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