Still Questions About Rouse

A couple of weeks ago, safeties coach Darren Perry wondered if 6-foot-4 Aaron Rouse was nimble enough to be an NFL safety. With starter Atari Bigby out for at least the next four weeks, the Packers will find out. The early trends are promising, with Rouse coming up huge late against Chicago.

Late in training camp, with Aaron Rouse about to miss his third consecutive preseason game because of an injured hamstring, safeties coach Darren Perry was asked about Rouse's ability to play in space with his taller-than-average 6-foot-4 frame.

"We're hoping to see it in games," Perry said, "but he's injured so you can't and there's not a whole lot to go on outside of what you see in spring, and we know you can't truly evaluate football players in shorts. You're kidding yourself if you think you can."

The evaluation will have to take place on the fly. With starter Atari Bigby out for at least the next four weeks with what coach Mike McCarthy labeled a "significant" knee injury, Rouse will be in the starting lineup when the Packers host the Bengals on Sunday.

"Most definitely I'm excited," Rouse said on Wednesday. "Excitement comes in measurements. What I mean by that is you have to stay focused. You can't go out there and be too wild or wide-eyed. You have to take your time, be focused and play your part."

Rouse has been an enigma in his two-plus years in the NFL. With his size, expectations have been for Rouse to be an enforcer. That hitting ability hasn't shown up often, though the Bears' Desmond Clark's cracked rib has Rouse's 37 tattooed on it.

With four interceptions in his first two seasons — including three during his nine starts — Rouse has obvious playmaking ability. Too often, though, he's been inconsistent and hasn't shown that sixth sense that separates good players from average players.

Rouse played well in filling in for Bigby down the stretch on Sunday night. During a critical juncture in the fourth quarter in which the Bears had first-and-goal from the 5-yard line and seemed poised to take control with a touchdown, Rouse filled the holes on running plays on first and second down and was all over star tight end Greg Olsen on a third-down pass.

Chalk it up to Rouse putting in the time on his own and with Perry and, in his word, being "committed" during the offseason. With Collins absent for offseason practices and Bigby mending from ankle surgery, Rouse was the de facto starter. Rouse took the job seriously.


Aaron Rouse celebrates Al Harris' clinching interception. Jim Prisching/AP

"I put in a lot of work throughout training camp and OTAs," Rouse said. "Anytime you get a chance to come in early and learn the defensive scheme, especially when you make the transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4, it definitely helps you out tremendously. Being a safety and being one of the major communicators in this defense, you have to know what's going on. You have to know how everything works. I made sure it was a priority for me to get back early in the offseason to learn the defense."

That foundation became critical for Rouse, who played in the first preseason game before sustaining a severe hamstring injury late during an intense evening practice. He missed the next three games before finally returning to practice last week.

In between, Rouse appeared to be on the roster bubble, especially with free agent Anthony Smith showing some playmaking ability, but instead, the Packers kept Rouse, jettisoned Smith and acquired Derrick Martin from Baltimore in a cutdown-day trade.

Now, the Packers are counting on Rouse. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers said Bigby "got off to a strong start" against the Bears. He had six tackles and, in taking advantage of Bigby's aggressive nature and hitting ability, Capers used Bigby as a blitzer several times. When Bigby exited, Capers didn't use Rouse in the same manner, and it remains to be seen if — or how — the scheme will change with the lineup change.

For his part, Rouse said the new scheme "plays well to the type of player that I am," because it demands the ability to play in the box as an enforcer and deep to make plays.

Asked Monday about Rouse, Perry's message was about the same as it was a couple weeks ago.

"He had a good spring," Perry said. "We're excited about him coming into training camp, looking to see how he tackles and his pad level and quickness and change of direction and how he would play in space. We saw some flashes of that during training camp. He was doing a great job really until he got hurt. Now he has an opportunity to capitalize on his abilities as a player in terms of showcasing what he can do. It's a great opportunity for him. We're not looking to have a dropoff with him coming into this situation."

If there is a dropoff or an injury — Rouse has missed seven games in two seasons — next in line is Martin. Perry got to know Martin during the road to the 2006 draft, jokingly calling him a "poor man's Dre Bly." In three seasons at Wyoming, Martin intercepted six passes, and as a junior, he ranked among the nation's leaders in passes defensed. Perry liked Martin's motor, ball skills and toughness.

Perry is impressed with how quickly Martin has picked up the defense, and said it "won't be long" before he'd be comfortable in having Martin on the field.

"He's got good hands," Perry said. "He's where he's supposed to be in coverage. He understands coverage, he understands angles and he's a good tackler. Shoot, to play safety in this league, if you can do that, you've got a chance."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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