In fact, he makes a point to emphasize it.
Rouse wants to seriously challenge for a starting spot. He got a taste of starting briefly as a rookie. Now, he wants seconds.
"It was a great taste," Rouse said. "I want more of it. Last year I did a great job filling in. I definitely want to be a starter."
Rouse's main obstacle is Nick Collins, who is considerably less gun-ho about the competition at safety. Diplomatic, if not exuberant.
"I'm not all about starting," Collins said. "If the coach wants to start Aaron Rouse, he'll put Aaron Rouse in. If he wants me to start, he'll start me. …I'm not worrying about that. It's not in my hands. I'm not the one making that decision."
There aren't many starting spots up for grabs this summer at Clarke Hinkle Field. It'll be open season at left guard, defensive tackle, strong side linebacker, maybe fullback ... and definitely safety. Atari Bigby figures to be the safest best of the bunch after a torrid finish to 2007. The training camp hero from ‘07 had a rocky start splotched with coverage mishaps, but finished with four interceptions in his final four regular season games and 16 tackles in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Collins has steadily regressed in three pro seasons like a stick of Juicy Fruit – fun and exciting at first but increasingly flavorless and dull.
As a rookie in 2005, Collins had 86 tackles. The next season, he initially struggled to adjust to Bob Sanders' scheme and was burned badly by opposing offenses early on. He recovered to finish with 82 stops, 14 pass breakups and three picks, but during the prototypical ‘peak' year for most players – Year Three – Collins took a big step backward.
A knee injury sidelined Collins for three games, which gave Rouse a brief cameo at starting free safety. But even aside from that, Collins was a fraction of former self. He never had more than five tackles in a game, and big plays weren't just rare – they were nonexistent. No picks, no sacks, no forced fumbles and only five tipped passes. Bhawoh Jue and Marques Anderson could've done that.
"I have to make the plays that come my way," Collins said. "I got my hands on some balls last year that should have been interceptions and I didn't bring them in."
Meanwhile, the 6-foot-4 Rouse single-handedly changed the momentum of two of the three games he started in place of Collins. His first-half interceptions of Vinny Testaverde instantly flipped the momentum of both games.
Rouse's pick against Carolina displayed his instinctive feel for the game. He lined up on Keary Colbert in the slot and hung with him for a split-second to trick Testaverde into thinking TE Jeff King had one-on-one coverage with A.J. Hawk on a drag. Rouse then shoved Colbert aside, stepped inside of King and stole the ball.
And Rouse's pick at Detroit displayed his obvious edge over Collins – athleticism and physical tools. He didn't bite on Jon Kitna's play-action fake, rather sticking stride for stride with Calvin Johnson and making the outstretched pick.
Rouse started off at Virginia Tech as the defense's top backup linebacker for two seasons. But when the Hokies realized Rouse needed to be on the field more often, they switched him to the ‘Rover' safety position – which was like making Kevin Garnett a point guard.
He was instantly bigger and stronger than his peers. During camp last year, Rouse frequently snuck in a punch after the bell, defying the quick-whistle coaching staff with a big hit. The kill shots carried into the season in Rouse's limited action – at times taking him out of plays.
When harnessed, Rouse's linebacker frame is a dangerous asset.
"Obviously, my size is a big advantage," Rouse said. "I use it well against the tight ends you're going to be playing and receivers you're going to be playing. I'm a rangy guy that can cover the whole field."
One catch. Rouse had injury problems of his own last year. He might have challenged Bigby for a starting role on opening day had he not suffered a hamstring injury against Jacksonville in the preseason. And he might have started in December had it not of been for a knee ailment.
But now it's a clean slate for everyone.
Head coach Mike McCarthy fired the starter's gun in June.
"I think there's competition throughout our whole football team," he said. "And that's one position you could point out where it's evident."