State of the Packers: Safeties

The fight between incumbent starter Atari Bigby and rookie Morgan Burnett to join Pro Bowler Nick Collins in the starting lineup will be the must-see battle of training camp. Some familiar faces join those three in the safety pecking order.

Our State of the Packers series continues with the safeties.

Roster

Starters: Nick Collins, Atari Bigby. Veteran backups: Khalil Jones, Derrick Martin, Charlie Peprah. Rookies: Morgan Burnett (third-round draft pick), Anthony Levine (undrafted).

The big picture

The Packers locked up two-time Pro Bowler Collins with a $26.7 million contract that will run through the 2013 season. The unselfish Collins somehow flies under the radar nationally, even though his 13 interceptions over the last two seasons are the most in the NFL by a safety.

The hot training camp battle will pit Bigby vs. Burnett. When Bigby plays, the defense is better by his mere presence. Last year, including the playoffs, the Packers finished 9-3 when Bigby started and 2-4 when he didn't. In games he's completely missed during the last two years, the Packers are 4-8. Needless to say, those 12 missed games are the big reason why the Packers elected to move up in the third round to get Burnett. Bigby was relatively quiet for most of last season but picked off three passes in the final two regular-season games.

Burnett, on the other hand, enters the NFL as one of the college game's top ballhawks and would immediately provide better range in the secondary. He picked off 14 passes in his three-years at Georgia Tech, including seven as a sophomore and four as a junior. At 6-foot-1 and 209 pounds, Burnett is 2 inches taller than Bigby but 4 pounds lighter. Still, he's considered a solid run defender and, just as importantly, a fine quarterback in the secondary. He didn't miss a game in college.

Martin returns after being acquired from Baltimore in a cutdown-weekend trade with Baltimore last summer. A year in Dom Capers' scheme should help, because he was a major disappointment when thrust in the lineup last season. On the plus side, he finished second on the team with 21 special-teams tackles despite missing two full games and parts of two others with injuries.

The other two familiar faces are Peprah and Jones, who will be vying for special-teams duties with Vaughn. Peprah (5-11, 203), who started for four seasons at Alabama, played in 37 games for the Packers from 2006 through 2008 and was one of their better special-teams players. He had a chance to beat out Bigby in 2008 but a hamstring injury stymied an impactful start to training camp. Peprah was cut last summer and spent a couple of games with Atlanta. Jones (6-1, 212), who signed to the Packers' practice squad late last season as a wide receiver, has been moved to defense.

In a battle of tryout players, Tennessee State's Levine (5-11, 193) beat out Connecticut's productive Robert Vaughn for a spot on the offseason roster. Levine, whose pro day workout numbers rivaled most of the esteemed safeties at the Scouting Combine, picked off five passes in his last two seasons.


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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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