Safety first: Rouse makes bid to start

The second-year pro continues to make plays, and will get a chance with the first-team on Friday. Packer Report's Tom Andrews has the story.

As rookie quarterback Matt Flynn brought his team to the line of scrimmage, he surveyed the defense. With coverage much to his liking, Flynn barked the signals and faded back to pass. Calmly, he zipped his throw right over the middle but it never got to his intended receiver. Instead, THAP!

Cradling that ball and bringing all the action the other way, big No. 37, Aaron Rouse, stepped in front of the receiver and had himself an interception.

On a chilly, windy Monday evening with the Packers railbirds taking in every move on the Clarke Hinkle practice field, Rouse made two beautiful, leaping pass deflections to go with his nifty theft of the Flynn pass — all in the space of about 15 minutes. Everywhere the football went, it seemed Rouse was nearby.

Truth be told, Rouse is making a serious bid to start at safety for the Packers in 2008.

"I think I'm progressing very well," the lanky, second-year pro from Virginia Tech says in assessing his play in training camp. "Obviously, our second preseason game (vs. San Francisco) wasn't so good, but our main focus here is to get better and get back to the fundamentals. I want to really improve on the small things that will elevate and take my game to the next level."

Rouse knows the coaches have been watching and waiting for him to make that progression. His next chance to make his case will come Friday night in Denver.

"Aaron, his consistency level early in camp wasn't where it needed to be," coach Mike McCarthy after Wednesday's practice, during which Rouse jumped a slant for Donald Driver for another interception. "I think he's definitely picked it up here probably the last week to 10 days. Hopefully, get him some action against Denver in the first half with the first group. I say it all the time: We don't just have 11 starters. We have excellent competition throughout our team. Defensively, we've added personnel groups to try to take advantage of them. But in Aaron's case, I'd like to get him some work in the first half."

Last year, the ball-hawking, 6-foot-4 Rouse made the most of his limited playing time. When Nick Collins went down with a knee injury, Rouse started three games and came up with picks in back-to-back games. On Thanksgiving in Detroit, with a national TV audience looking on, he swiped a Jon Kitna aerial and returned it 34 yards to set up Green Bay's go-ahead touchdown in the second quarter. For the game, he posted a team-best 11 tackles, including eight solo stops.

While he put up some impressive numbers, they don't begin to reflect what's intriguing about Rouse. He has the proverbial nose for the football, a knack of generally being in the right place at the right time. It's natural, not something that can be practiced.

"Some things just come from instincts, you know? I've been playing the game since I was 8 years old and it's just instincts," Rouse said. "Knowing people, knowing the quarterback, knowing the game of football. It's knowing what they're trying to get and knowing their schemes. It's basic instincts and raw talent. I feel like I'm a ball hawk, and I want it every chance I can get."

Blessed with a ton of talent, Rouse senses a difference between where he is now as opposed to last year at this time.

"I feel like I know the defense and I know what's being asked of me," Rouse explains. "I feel like I'm the quarterback of the defense, not like a rookie or a guy just trying to fit in. I'm a guy who's in control out there. I run the plays and make sure we're in the right scheme of things. It's about being comfortable and confident out there. I feel confident and I think it shows."

When you look into this young man's eyes, you believe him. He doesn't come off as boastful or cocky. Just a guy oozing confidence and waiting to make that next big play.

So, Rouse has his eyes on the prize, to start at safety. No offense, Mr. Collins, but No. 37 is lookin' over your shoulder. What will it take for Rouse to win this battle?

"I need to continue to make plays and just go out there and make plays that can change the game around," Rouse says. "Hopefully, I can continue to be a playmaker out there, be consistent and do the right things."

Rouse gets his next opportunity in the Mile High City.

Tom Andrews is a frequent contributor to Packer Report. E-mail him at andrewst@charter.net


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