Three positions up for grabs's Dylan Tomlinson offers an early prediction on which players he feels will win starting jobs with the Green Bay Packers at three positions up for grabs in training camp.

When training camp begins in less than three weeks, the primary focus will be on who wins the starting running back job, Vernand Morency or rookie Brandon Jackson.

Without a doubt it will be the most closely watched race and is one that isn't likely to be resolved until the 2007 season is well under way.

But running back is hardly the only starting job that will be up-for-grabs during training camp. The Packers have issues at safety, tight end, and kicker that aren't likely to be resolved until the conclusion of training camp.

The position I will be watching the most carefully is safety. While Nick Collins is firmly implanted at one of the safety positions, the other is completely up for grabs.

The Packers thought they had this position more than taken care of last season when they signed free agent Marquand Manuel and had Marviel Underwood coming off a promising rookie season.

When training camp began a year ago Manuel was nursing a calf injury and Underwood took his place with the first team. Underwood seemed destined to win the job until a knee injury sidelined him for the entire 2006 season. While Manuel eventually got healthy, he never seemed to recover from the missed time and seemed out of sync with the defense for all of last season. Manuel may be the returning starter, but based on the way he played last season, it would seem foolish to think he has a stranglehold on the starting job.

Manuel's primary competition should come from Underwood, assuming he comes back strong from the injury. Tyrone Culver showed flashes as a rookie last season and will also be given the chance to compete. This is also a position where the Packers are so woefully thin that even rookie Aaron Rouse, a third-round pick from Virginia Tech, will also have the chance to compete for the starting job. If Rouse wins the job, he will bring size to the table, something that the Packers haven't had at safety for some time. At 6-foot-4 and 223 pounds, Rouse is built like a linebacker.

At tight end, Bubba Franks will probably retain his starting job for the eighth straight season, but if he keeps his job it will have more to do with a lack of competition than it will be an indication of Franks deserving to be the starter. Donald Lee took repetitions with the first team during mini-camp, but that was likely just a case of Packers coach Mike McCarthy letting Franks know that if he has another season like he did last year that someone else will be the starter. Tory Humphrey and Lee both figure to compete with Franks for the starting job.

For most of last season there was every indication that the Packers were happy with Dave Rayner as their kicker, but when Ted Thompson selected Colorado kicker Mason Crosby in the sixth-round of the draft, that may have been a sign that the Packers were thinking about making a change. Crosby was the best kicker in college football for most of the last two years and virtually nobody expected him to still be available in the sixth round. Rayner shouldn't start packing his bags quite yet, but I would expect Crosby to have a slight edge to win the job.

Dylan Tomlinson

Dylan Tomlinson is a frequent contributor to E-mail him at

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