Training camp preview: Cornerbacks

Former undrafted rookie Tramon Williams showed promise as the nickel cornerback last season, but he will have plenty of competition this preseason.

The battle at strong-side linebacker between Brady Poppinga and Brandon Chillar will be a focal point during training camp.

The battle to be the nickel cornerback won't garner as much attention. Which is too bad, because that battle might be more important in the long run. Teams use three or more cornerbacks on slightly more than half of the defensive snaps — with a linebacker typically being taken off the field — so the nickel corner likely will play more snaps than the starting strong-side linebacker.

Last year, it appeared Frank Walker, Patrick Dendy and Will Blackmon would duel to win the job. Instead, Jarrett Bush claimed the role based on a superb preseason. That strong play failed to transfer to the regular season, however, culminating in Bush getting torched by the Dallas Cowboys.

When Bush was benched against Dallas, Tramon Williams got his chance. Williams, who was an undrafted free agent in 2006 and buried on the depth chart at the start of training camp in 2007, seized control of the nickel role.

He heads into this training camp as the favorite to keep the gig because of a strong showing in the offseason workouts.

"He's a lot stronger," coach Mike McCarthy said last month. "He's doing a lot better job in his bump technique, as far as the releases. He's had three or four that I can think of where he basically buried the receiver at the line of scrimmage.

"He's definitely had another very good offseason. I would say he was one of our most improved players last year, and I think he's taken another step so far this year."

Williams, who at 5-foot-11 doesn't have ideal size but has speed and a feel for the game, will face plenty of competition to keep the job. Bush is back after his trial by fire, and could contend if his confidence has healed. Blackmon supposedly will be healthy, though he's played in only 13 of 32 career regular-season games. And new to the mix is rookie second-round pick Pat Lee.

"There is so much competition," McCarthy said.

Once he gets acclimated to the pro game, Lee could be Williams' top challenger. Lee played the Packers' brand of bump-and-run coverage at Auburn and succeeded in the athletic Southeastern Conference.

"It's going to be a great competition," Williams said. "These guys have worked hard, and that will make the game real interesting."

Bill Huber writes for Packer Report. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com


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