Collins vs. Rouse

Training camp battle for starting safety spot is one to watch, says Packer Report's Matt Tevsh

Evaluate the Green Bay Packers roster as the team heads into training camp and only one position battle seems intriguing. That would be the one brewing between Nick Collins and Aaron Rouse for the starting free safety spot.

By all off-season indications, Collins, the incumbent, will have to show more production before the regular season begins to keep his job. Rouse, on the other hand, has the size (6-foot-4, 223 pounds) and instincts that make him a hot pick to take over in just his second year in the league.

While it is still too early to tell who might be ahead, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy is already setting the tone to challenge each player.

"I think there's competition throughout our whole football team, and that's one position you could point out where it's evident," said McCarthy after Tuesday's mini-camp practice. "I don't think you could not be happy with the progress Aaron Rouse has made throughout the spring, and really, the productivity that he played with in his limited opportunities in season. (I'm) very pleased with Aaron, just like a lot of our younger players."

Free safety is one of the most critical positions on any defense. It essentially provides the eyes for the unit and is the lead communicator in adjusting pass coverage. In an increasingly pass-happy league, such a player at that position has to be nearly flawless on a weekly basis to have the best chance of success.

Additionally, a free safety with range can be the biggest of big-play performers on a defense. It can be the X-factor in changing games through turnovers. Former Packers' and current Vikings' Pro Bowler Darren Sharper has made a name for himself making pass thefts from his free safety spot.

That being said, Collins has shown the ability to do all those things in his first three years in the NFL. He has just had a few too many breakdowns and dropped interceptions to be a lock to start again with a guy like Rouse breathing down his neck.

"I just have to make the plays that come my way," said Collins. "I got my hands on a couple balls last year that should have been interceptions, and I didn't bring them in so my thing is just make the plays."

Collins has four interceptions in 45 NFL starts (including the post-season). Rouse had two interceptions in 13 games (three starts) last year.

"If you look at Nick's play, Nick has been consistent," said McCarthy. "His productivity is something that really everybody wants to improve on. You want to see him be more productive. We do ask Nick to do a lot. He can play both safety positions, and he also has the ability to play corner, too. When I look at Nick, I look at him in line with pretty much our whole defense. This is now going into his fourth year in the scheme, and for a lot of our players it's two-plus years, and I look for the overall productivity of the defense to improve, the ability to be more aggressive, things like that."

Rouse would appear to better fit the aggression that McCarthy prefers. He just needs to show the coaching staff that he is ready to handle all the responsibilities of a starter because he never really got the chance to do that last year. If he can, the job just might be his.

Keep a keen eye on both Collins and Rouse when training camp begins July 28. Unlike the Packers' unsettled guard position, or the outside linebacker position, or the competition for backup spots, Collins vs. Rouse has more of a marquee feel to it. It should be a good show.

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