Bigby ready to trade handstands for big plays

The defense felt hard-hitting safety Atari Bigby's absence last season, going 3-7 when not in the starting lineup. He hopes injuries to an ankle, hamstring and shoulder are behind him as he assumes a Troy Polamalu-like role in the new defense.

Behind the defense, while his teammates ran through the new playbook, Atari Bigby kept busy by doing handstands.

"It looks like I'm kind of bored?" Bigby said in repeating the reporter's question, eliciting a laugh from his next-door neighbor in the locker room, cornerback, Al Harris. "It's not boring, but I'm doing stuff like that to stay warm. I'm not bored at all."

OK, maybe "bored" wasn't the right choice of words. But for a football player, being held out of four weeks of organized team activities and the four-practice minicamp wasn't exactly exciting stuff, either. After an injury-plagued season in which his on-again, off-again absence had a big impact on the defense, it's not surprising that Bigby has an itch to get back on the field.

"Of course. This is what I do," Bigby said. "Why wouldn't I itch for it?"

If his 2007 season was a major surprise, his 2008 season was a major disappointment.

In helping the Packers finish 13-3 and reach the NFC title game two years ago, Bigby started all 16 games and piled up 121 tackles, five interceptions, 13 passes defensed and three forced fumbles.

Last year, however, he played in only seven games with six starts, with 31 tackles, one game-ending interception against Minnesota, three passes defensed and no forced fumbles.

Bigby injured his left ankle during the preseason, and he fought through ligament damage. A hamstring injury sustained in Week 2 at Detroit kept him out for five games. Finally, he missed the final four games with a sprained shoulder that landed him on injured reserve. That injury turned out to be a blessing, allowing him to have surgery on the ankle in December.

"The ankle was more than what you guys (were told)," Bigby said. "I did as best as I could. It wasn't me, but I tried to do my best for my teammates.

"I don't know how I even played on it. But, I did. So, it's a mind-over-matter thing. I didn't want to let my teammates down. I got the surgery, so I feel much better this year."

Just how important is Bigby? They went 3-7 without him in the starting lineup last year. Include the Saints game — in which Bigby exited early in the game after being dusted on Lance Moore's 70-yard touchdown — and the record was 3-8.

Nonetheless, the Packers gave Bigby the second-round restricted free-agent tender of $1.54 million this offseason, clearly believing he's a better alternative than holdovers Aaron Rouse, Charlie Peprah and Jarrett Bush.

While rehab from the surgery prevented Bigby from going through full-speed drills during offseason practices, he at least was a staple of the walk-through segments. So, he'll hit the practice field on Aug. 1 with a solid understanding of the defense.

"Unless I have some sort of setback or some sort of freak accident, I'll be there on the 1st," said Bigby, saying he feels "a hundred times better" than last year.

Bigby will play an important role in the defense. The Packers' defense is rooted in what Pittsburgh does, and Bigby will play the role of the Steelers' Troy Polamalu. That means an in-the-box performer, a blitzer and a big-play defender in the secondary.

"I couldn't be in a better defense," he said. "I think I'll be more of a highlighted player in the defense. For me, it's going to be more of a versatile position."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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