Packers players to watch

Training camp opens in less than two weeks and the Packers have some issues to solve before the season opener. Who will step up? Here are a few of the key Packers to watch and one on the hot seat.


  • Cornerback Tramon Williams: The team's pass defense was ripe to be picked on late in the 2009 season after Al Harris suffered a major knee injury. Williams went from nickel back to starter and had mixed results. He has been groomed as Harris' successor on the right side, and that process could be expedited throughout training camp and at the start of the season since Harris isn't fully recovered from Nov. 30 surgery for torn ligaments in his left knee. The Packers will need Williams, who didn't sign as a restricted free agent until late in the offseason, to raise his play and become the shutdown corner they've seen flashes of his first three years (10 interceptions).

  • Nose tackle B.J. Raji: The time has come for the mammoth Raji (6-2, 337) to be the anchor of the defensive line in the Packers' 3-4 scheme after his rookie season didn't amount to much. A contract holdout at the outset of training camp and then an ankle injury late in the preseason pushed back the indoctrination for Raji, the team's first-round draft pick in 2009 (No. 9 overall). With Raji healthy and poised to make a belated impact, including causing havoc in pass rush to take pressure off the coverage guys, the Packers moved incumbent nose tackle Ryan Pickett to defensive end.

  • Returner Will Blackmon: Unlike Harris, Blackmon is expected to be ready for Day 1 of training camp less than a year removed from ACL surgery on his left knee. The Packers return game suffered greatly with Blackmon out most of the season. They averaged a paltry 6.9 yards on punt returns and a pedestrian 22.1 yards on kickoff runbacks. If Green Bay is going to be taken seriously as an NFC championship contender, having the slippery Blackmon healthy and making big plays as he did in 2007 and ‘08 with three touchdowns on punt returns is imperative.

    Hot seat: Incumbent strong safety Atari Bigby not only will have a lot of catching up to do if and when he finally signs as a restricted free agent, but he will have to make up a lot of ground to try to keep the starting job. Bigby's absence throughout the offseason opened the door for rookie Morgan Burnett, a third-round draft pick, to work extensively alongside Pro Bowl free safety Nick Collins with the first-string unit. The 6-foot-1, 209-pound Burnett was a bona fide ball hawk (14 interceptions) in just three seasons at Georgia Tech and, as important, can play physical in the box. Given the team's impatience with Bigby, who has been injury prone since a breakout 2007 season, it could be Burnett's job to lose in training camp.

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