Roman or Manuel a key

PackerReport.com's Doug Ritchay weighs Mark Roman vs. Marquand Manuel in his column today. The Green Bay Packers need one of the safeties, both journeyman players, to make an impact this year, Ritchay says.

Mark Roman vs. Marquand Manuel. Not exactly the heavyweight fight worth paying $50 on pay per view to watch, is it?

Nonetheless, this is what the Packers have staged this summer in a battle for the starting safety spot alongside second-year player Nick Collins. In the returning incumbent, Roman, the Packers have an average player who'll make most plays, but few impact plays (four career interceptions). In Manuel, the Packers have an average player, who'll make most plays, but few impact plays (one career interception).

Wait a minute, didn't I just say that? Yes.

Which is why when the Packers signed Manuel to a five-year, $10 million deal this off-season, prying him away from NFC champion Seattle, most looked at the move and wondered how much better the Packers' secondary got. If anything, it got deeper with an OK player, but it didn't improve the secondary.

Based on Manuel's deal, he's looked at as the current incumbent, but he's not a shoe-in at this point.

Although this fight between Roman and Manuel figures to be closely fought, the Packers prefer it be a knockout. They would like to see one of these players jump out and make plays in the preseason, making the starting call easy. However, the pasts of both players suggest that won't happen. Both are classic journeyman players, which every team needs and has, but that's it.

Roman has been a starter in Green Bay the past two seasons, but what has he contended with? Marques Anderson? Ben Roethlisberger is a better tackler.

Manuel didn't become a starter last year for the Seahawks until Ken Hamlin was injured after the sixth game in a bar brawl. If Hamlin doesn't get mixed up in that, where's Manuel today? In Green Bay? Unlikely.

This position battle is all that needs to be settled in a secondary, which quite frankly, could be good. If free-agent cornerback Charles Woodson can avoid the injury bug, which bit him in recent seasons, the Packers' cornerback tandem of Woodson and Al Harris will be strong – the best in the NFC North.

And if second-year player Nick Collins continues to progress the way he did in the second half of last season, where his speed and athleticism showed, the Packers have three better-than-average players, which leads us back to strong safety.

Not every secondary has quality at all four spots, but the Packers need it. At linebacker, there's Nick Barnett and first-round pick A.J. Hawk, but the third spot will go to a player to be named later.

On the defensive line, the Packers have Ryan Pickett inside and Aaron Kampman and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila outside. But depth outside and inside is a concern, as is wearing down "KGB" as games and the season progresses.

Therefore, if the secondary can be a strength, it'll take pressure off the front seven to make plays, otherwise suffer the likelihood of giving up the big play.

The secondary is the last line of defense, and think back to Green Bay's Super Bowl seasons on 1996 and 1997. What did the secondary look like? At the corner, Tyrone Williams, Craig Newsome and Doug Evans. At safety, the ultra-reliable duo of LeRoy Butler and Eugene Robinson.

Granted the defensive line had Reggie White, Sean Jones and Gilbert Brown, but this secondary grouping gave the Packers the ability to mix it up on defense because the team knew the last line of defense would hold its own against most slipups.

That wasn't the case last season. Just think back to Roman's horrific play against Cleveland when he whiffed on a tackle against Braylon Edwards late in the game. Edwards scored an insurance touchdown, leading to a Packers loss. If the secondary can be relied on to make these plays – big and small – it opens up possibilities for the front seven.

This can only happen if the fight between Manuel and Roman resembles a true heavyweight battle, where each side is throwing haymakers. If it ends up being a flyweight battle, hang on for more big plays by the opposition.


Doug Ritchay

Editor's note: Doug Ritchay is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at dritchay@sbcglobal.net.


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