Grading the Packers: Safeties

Bigby adds punch, improvement to defensive backfield

One of the most improved positions in the Green Bay Packers' lineup this past season was at safety. The team's decision to part ways with free agent flop Marquand Manuel and insert Atari Bigby as the starter in training camp made a big difference in the Packers' secondary.

The hard-hitting Bigby combined with free safety Nick Collins gave the Packers their best tandem of safeties since LeRoy Butler and Darren Sharper roamed the secondary. Third-round draft pick Aaron Rouse also provided the Packers with a snapshot of his big-play ability in the time that he got to play, and Charlie Peprah was a reliable backup and special teams player.

With Tyrone Culver coming off the injured reserve list, the Packers have a solid core of safeties entering this offseason. General manager Ted Thompson no doubt will add some free agents and possibly a draft pick to the mix to improve the competition in training camp.

Here's an assessment of each of the Packers safeties:

Atari Bigby: In his first full season of regular playing time, Bigby led the defense with five interceptions and had 13 passes defensed. Bigby was third on the team in tackles with 121 (95 solo) and tied for a team-high with three forced fumbles. He was named NFC Defensive Player of the Month after coming away with four interceptions.

Starting all 18 of Green Bay's games, Bigby also made some eye-popping hits that has been missing from the secondary for a number of years. At times, his aggressiveness cost the defense penalties. Bigby committed eight penalties, including four pass interferences, two face masks, one unnecessary roughness and one delay of game for spiking the ball.
Grade: B

Nick Collins: A knee injury Nov. 4 at Kansas City caused him to miss three games – Minnesota (Nov. 11), Carolina (Nov. 18), and Detroit (Nov. 22). He finished with 62 tackles (45 solo) and six passes defensed. He had no interceptions after making three in 2006 and one as a rookie in '05.

For the most part, Collins was consistent. He gave up few big plays (four touchdowns overall) and only committed one penalty for unnecessary roughness.

Collins will be pushed by Aaron Rouse during the offseason. Rouse started in Collins' absence and made some big plays.
Grade: C-

Aaron Rouse: A hamstring injury sustained on Aug. 30 hampered the rookie's progress early in the season. When he did get a chance to play, Rouse made the most of it at free safety, filling in for the injured Collins, and on special teams. In 11 games played during the regular season, Rouse had 33 tackles (26 solo), plus two interceptions among four passes defensed. He had two tackles on special teams.

Look for Rouse to possibly push Collins out of the starting job this offseason. The Packers like his hard-hitting style, plus he has good size, speed and hands to make plays.
Grade: C+

Charlie Peprah: He played in all 18 of Green Bay's games, mainly on special teams where he excels. Peprah finished with 11 special teams tackles in the regular season and forced two fumbles, including one against the New York Giants on Sept. 16 that led to a touchdown.

Peprah will be in the mix for a roster spot this season, but once again, starting low on the totem pole.
Grade: C

Tyrone Culver: He injured his shoulder in the final preseason game and was placed on season-ending injured reserve. He will get another shot to make the team this offseason.
Grade: Incomplete

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