Rising to the occasion

Bishop, Bush solidify roles, roster spots with Packers

Two players not really expected to compete for key backup roles with the Packers at the start of training camp made statements on Thursday night against the Jaguars.

Cornerback Jarrett Bush and linebacker Desmond Bishop performed best of any of the Packers who may be considered on the bubble for a roster spot with just one preseason game remaining. Bush played well with the first unit defense as the nickel back, and Bishop's big night was highlighted by a near decapitation of Jaguars' receiver Reggie Williams.

In an otherwise unconvincing night from others trying to earn a roster spot or specific role on the team, the two young backups may have solidified potential problem areas. When the Packers open up the regular season against the Eagles on Sept. 9, look for Bishop to be the No. 2 middle linebacker behind Nick Barnett and for Bush to be the No. 3 cornerback behind Al Harris and Charles Woodson.

"It's kind of nerve-wracking because it's your job, your life," said Bush of the competition for the backup cornerback spot which includes free agent Frank Walker and holdovers Will Blackmon and Patrick Dendy. "They wanted to see how I would hold up with the ‘ones' tonight and I think I played well."

Meanwhile, the Packers have also been looking for someone to step up in the battle for a backup linebacker spot. Bishop, a rookie sixth-round draft pick, has made the biggest statement so far. His crowd-pleasing hit on Williams in the second quarter sent the receiver's helmet flying. Maybe just as impressive as the hit was the way Bishop read quarterback Byron Leftwich's eyes on the crossing pattern which really set up the blow.

"I kind of feel like I got the monkey off my back and I can just play and have fun and compete," said Bishop.

On two other plays later in the game, Bishop had interceptions in his sight with quick reactions. Had defensive tackle Colin Cole not been in the way for one, Bishop likely would have picked off a short pass intended for running back LaBrandon Toefield.

"It was a great play by Cole so I can't really complain, but I definitely wanted to intercept that," said Bishop. "But that's part of being a linebacker – reading the quarterback and playing coverage and then just trying to make a play."

Bishop tied Barnett with five tackles to lead the team. He also looked comfortable making the defensive calls for much of the second and third quarters.

"I pretty much got the defense down," he said. "As you could see I played a little better as far as knowing the defense and my assignments, so I could just play and react instead of having to think so much. That was a big part of it."

Added Barnett of his fellow linebacker's performance: "I thought it was probably his best preseason game. I'm sure he's still got things to work on, just like everybody else, but I thought he had a pretty strong game."

Bishop likely has surpassed Abdul Hodge on the depth chart. After coming out with a strong rookie training camp a year ago, Hodge has battled a knee injury this year which has affected his play. Against the Jaguars, he did not have one of his better games. He had just one tackle in extended playing time and missed one which led to a 29-yard catch and run by running back D.D. Terry late in the fourth quarter.

Bush's big statement came last week against the Seahawks when he intercepted two passes and had his hands on a third. A day after the game, he was told by coaches that he would step in as the third cornerback in the nickel defense against the Jaguars. He did nothing to hurt his chances of winning that spot permanently with his most recent performance.

On the Jaguars' first series, he was called on four plays to cover the outside receiver and had good coverage. At least twice Leftwich looked his way, and twice the Jaguars' quarterback was forced to throw another way. He also correctly covered his zone on a fourth down play in the first quarter which resulted in an incomplete pass to Maurice Jones-Drew. Later in the game, he broke up a third down pass intended for receiver Dennis Northcutt.

Perhaps more than anything on Saturday night, Bush and Bishop matched the energy of the Packers No. 1 defense, a unit that has been dominant this preseason. With that kind of inspired effort, the Packers have to feel much better about at least two uncertain spots.

Matt Tevsh

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

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