Projected reserves: Mark Roman, Marviel Underwood
Longshots: Tyrone Culver, Atari Bigby, Tra Boger
With room for only four on the roster, the competition to earn a backup position at safety for the Green Bay Packers in training camp will be as strong as ever.
Packers general manager Ted Thompson made it a point to upgrade the position this off-season by signing unrestricted free agent Marquand Manuel to a five-year, $10 million deal. He then acquired Tyrone Culver in the sixth round of the NFL draft.
Manuel and second-year pro Nick Collins are locks to start. Collins is coming off a stellar rookie season in which he started all 16 games and finished fourth on the team with 96 tackles. A hard-hitter and solid tackler, Collins had one interception, though he dropped a few other sure pickoffs, and forced one fumble. Manuel will replace Mark Roman, as the starter at free safety. Manuel, a productive safety in Seattle's run to the Super Bowl last season, will be counted on to bring a hard-hitting mentality that has escaped the defense in recent years.
Roman is coming off his most productive season as a pro, but the Packers feel he was not consistent and, thus, have replaced him with Manuel. Roman, entering his seventh season, started all 16 games for the second time in his career and was second on the team with 105 tackles. He also had two interceptions, eight passes defensed and two fumble recoveries – all career highs. If Manuel struggles to pick up where he left off with the Seahawks, Roman may reclaim his starting spot.
Marviel Underwood will have to fend off Culver, Atari Bigby and Tra Boger for the fourth and final spot at safety. Underwood, the first of two fourth-round selections by the Packers in the 2005 NFL draft, led special teams with 23 tackles and had 14 tackles in limited action on defense. Underwood has the ability to be physical, which fits what the defense is seeking, and is solid on special teams. Culver, however, will give Underwood a challenge. Culver played two seasons at cornerback while at Fresno State before starting the last two seasons at safety. His versatility and experience will be helpful, but like most rookies, he'll have to prove in training camp that he can be an asset on special teams. If not, Underwood will easily reclaim his position.
If Underwood and Culver have solid training camps, there is a slight chance that the Packers may release the 29-year-old Roman. He is scheduled to earn a base salary of $800,000 this season. Aside from Manuel, all other safeties on the roster are scheduled for base salaries of $350,000 or less this season.
Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at email@example.com.