Rookies get shot of confidence

The early returns on general manager Ted Thompson's 2006 draft are looking pretty good, especially after the performances of two unexpected rookie starters who played major parts in the Packers 38-10 preseason victory over the Falcons at Lambeau Field.

While second-round pick Greg Jennings stole the spotlight with an 85-yard touchdown reception, fifth-round selection Tony Moll and sixth-round selection Tyrone Culver were the best of the class on Saturday night. Moll started at right guard after spending his first week of practice with the first unit, and Culver made an interception of a Michael Vick pass starting at strong safety, a spot made open by injuries to Marquand Manuel (calf) and Marviel Underwood (knee).

With continued progress and strong outings like those displayed against the Falcons, Moll and Culver look like good bets to make the final 53-man roster. Each should earn another start on Aug. 28 against the Bengals if all goes well in training camp this week. Until then, the Packers can feel better about two position groups, guard and safety, where they have become increasingly thin on the depth chart.

Culver saw more action than any other starter against the Falcons, playing well into the fourth quarter. He was tied for the team lead with five tackles and had one of three team interceptions. The game did not start so well for him though.

The Falcons' lone touchdown of the night was partially Culver's mistake. Vick hit wide open tight end Dwayne Blakley for a 22-yard touchdown pass to put the Falcons up 7-0 in the first quarter. Blakley got behind linebacker Nick Barnett and Culver on the play.

"It's a bracket (coverage)," said Culver. "We had inside help and outside help. It's my job to hold the outside. We had an inside runner. It was play-action, down in the red zone. The linebacker has to be aggressive and that was just a situation where they had a good play call for the situation… We kind of fell a little bit apart there on defense."

Culver rebounded from his early misfortune to play an otherwise superb game for a rookie who was buried on the team's depth chart shortly after being drafted in late April. Injuries and improvement, though, have allowed him to seize an opportunity and he is taking advantage. After giving up a touchdown, he settled down, exhibiting aggressive play against the run and primarily dropping deep in pass coverage. His first-quarter interception of Vick was perhaps most impressive because he showed discipline in maintaining back-side coverage against a play fake until he came across the middle with tight end Eric Beverly. When Vick's pass sailed high, Culver was in position to make the play.

"It always feels good to make a play," he said. "It relaxes you. It gives you confidence to just let you know that you are on the right track."

Culver's growing confidence is starting to show in Moll as well. Moll looked like a long shot to make the team coming out of the draft, but in a starting role now, he can cement his spot on the team. It is unlikely he will be the starter over rookie second-round pick Daryn Colledge when the regular season begins, but nothing he did against the Falcons hurt his position. For now, he is keeping his rise up the depth chart in proper perspective.

"Who knows what they're going to do depending on how Daryn plays," said Moll. "They might bring him back (to the starting lineup). Who knows? Right now, that's what they just told me. They're just trying to find the five guys that are going to make it happen. Either way, you have to look at this as something very positive. Hopefully I showed this team that I should be sticking around past the last preseason game. That's what I'm looking forward to."

Moll did not make any glaring mistakes in the game helping the Packers to a much better overall performance on offense than a week ago against the Chargers. Playing through the first series of the second half, mainly against veteran defensive tackle Rod Coleman, Moll did not give up a sack, allowed two pressures on Favre, and made a decent seal block on a Donald Driver reverse play which gained 19 yards. The only play he struggled was on a running play early in the second quarter when he whiffed a block getting to the second level against a Falcons linebacker. Other than that, he showed good discipline blocking his zone and held his own going up against veteran defensive tackle Rod Coleman and rookie Michael Bozeman for much of the night.

After a blowout win, the Packers have a number of reasons to believe they are getting better. At the top of that list is surprising rookies Culver and Moll, two players starting to gain some momentum.


Matt Tevsh

Editor's note: Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com.


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