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Competition will be intense at the Safety position...

Discussion in 'Packer Fan Forum' started by Bruce, Jun 10, 2007.

  1. Bruce

    Bruce Cheesehead

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    Here is the piece I wrote at the beginning of this year:

    Safety Proves To Be Anything But: Putting the Safe Back into Safety…
    … Part VII of positional analysis series.


    As a long time linebacker in the NFL, Ted Thompson recognized the value of having safeties that could hold the last line of defense behind him.

    Perhaps those memories explain Ted Thompson’s making acquiring a safety his top priority before the start of free agency 2006 – in fact, TT made Marquand Manuel his top FA priority in 2006.

    Truth be told, Ted was so anxious to secure signing Manuel that he flirted with tampering charges by prematurely talking about this while Marquand was still under contract with the Seahawks, and had to backtrack and retract his comments to satisfy Seattle and the league office.

    It was the first, but not the last of Thompson’s safety miscalculations that made the 2006 version of Safety an oxymoron.

    As soon as ‘04’ & ‘05’ starting S Mark Roman saw what Thompson was paying Manuel, (who Roman had beat out for a job and roster spot in Cincinnati), Mark asked to either have his contract extended or be terminated. Thompson declined both of his requests, but five months later had a change of heart and granted Mark’s request for release just before the start of training camp.

    General manager Ted Thompson said the Packers held on to Roman because their safety position was not deep, but believing in his draft picks and Manuel whom he signed to assume a starting role, Thompson reversed course and decided it was best to release Mark Roman after all.

    "As we're signing our rookies we had two more guys than we can go to training camp with," Thompson said. "We like the look of some our young guys and we felt that Mark did a good job here, but letting him go now allows him to hook on with another team and get a job.”

    Some might argue that it was just a continuation of miscalculations that lead to a season start that saw an astronomical number of big play explosions cripple the Packers early and often in the 1st half of ‘06’.

    =======================================================
    With 2006 in the review mirror let’s take a look at the safety prospects going forward:


    Nick Collins at 5-11 201 lbs is a gifted athlete with incredible physical skills. Nick is also a guy who scored embarrassing low on the Wonderlic test and has played up and down over the course of his first 32 games, leaving some wonder(lic)ing (pardon the pun) if he can handle the position without being babysat by a veteran presence at the other Safety position.

    Bowing to ethics of full disclosure, I am a Nick Collins fan and believe that there is plenty of reason for optimism, and only partially because of his enormous upside potential.

    But let’s back up and review for a minute, and start by a look back at Collin’s rookie season. Despite questions about his readiness, Collins started all 16 games at free safety as a rookie, the first rookie to do so since Chuck Cecil did so in 1988 – no small accomplishment. Nick did not disappoint finishing his season with 96 tackles, 9 passes defended, an interception, two forced fumbles, and a spot on the All-rookie squad.

    Great things were expected from Collins for ‘06’ but they did not come to fruition until the month of December, when Collins took the reigns and stopped over-thinking and started playing up to his great athletic ability.

    Down the ‘06’ NFL stretch, and especially the last 4 games, Nick played up to the promise that most had for him coming into his sophomore season. Nick Collins sealed the victory against SF by jumping a pass intended for Davis. The once porous defense started tightening and shutting down opponents.

    In the season finale against da bears, Nick played like an All Pro. He dominated the field in front of a National TV audience, snaring two exceptional interceptions and just missing a third. He flew all over the field making blow up tackles, forcing Lovie Smith to quickly reconsider his tactic of having his starters on the field.

    For the season Nick Collins registered 80 tackles and 15 assists, he forced two fumbles, snared three interceptions, tied for 2nd on the team with turnover plays – 5, scored a TD and put up an impressive 13 passes defended.

    Nick has amazing speed for a safety (4.38 – 40) and can get over the top and close fast to the ball. He is an aggressive run defender who loves to put the leather to ball carriers and is good at wrapping up and finishing. Collins uses his speed to get downhill in a hurry and fill alleys. Nick’s performance against the Saints is a great example of his ability to track down and finish tackles like a LB with CB speed. In the aforementioned game, Nick Collins found the elusive Reggie Bush in the open field and stopped him in his tracks on at least 4 occasions – refusing to be shaken by Bush’s amazing quickness.

    On the negative side, Nick Collins clearly came into ‘06’ missing the security blanket of Veteran Mark Roman playing aside him. Nick was thinking far too much early in the season, which exaggerated his already limited instincts and ball awareness. Nick does not have great hands, and leaves some interceptions on the field – you know the old adage, if he could catch the ball he would probably play on offense...

    However, once December started (and peaking against da bears) the light seemed to come on for Collins. Nick stopped thinking and started playing up to his extraordinary physical ability.

    The best news of all is: Safeties rarely see the field as starters before their 3rd season in the NFL, often the coming out season for many players, as their bodies and heads finally catch up to the speed of the Pro game. For Nick this will all take place with the added bonus of him having 32 games of experience as a starter at 23 years young.

    [​IMG]

    I look for great things from Nick Collins in 2007 – especially if a player can be found to adequately man the other safety position along side him.

    ========================================================
    Speaking of the other safety position, it was manned (or often unmanned) by Marquand Manuel – the anti-Nick Collins. Where Nick is a great athlete, with unlimited upside, Marquand is very limited athlete, with virtually no upside potential.

    It would be generous to say Manuel had an up and down season – unless of course your were describing his propensity to kiss turf while missing tackles. Several of us went ballistic when we heard that TT was targeting Manuel in free agency – here at Packers’ Chatters resident former scout Patty was quick to declare that Marquand was slow and had virtually no cover skills. I agreed.

    Sadly, he was worse than I expected – and I was one of his most verbal critics. He was just as slow in coverage as I expected, but was a far worse tackler and had even worse reaction time than I dreamt possible. He led the team in missed tackles with 15, despite being billed as a sure tackler that would be a significant upgrade in that area from Roman. And unless the ball carrier was right in front of him, Manuel demonstrated no ability to make a play in the open field.

    Thompson declared at signing what a great communicator Marquand was in Seattle. Well, unless they speak a totally different language in the upper North West, Manuel left those skills with the Seahawks. Trying to assume the role of leader, Marquand quickly turned off veterans Woodson and Harris with his know-it-all attitude – demonstrating lots of talk with very little walk to back it up.

    Manuel gave up 6 TD passes, the most by a Packer safety since the Infante era, and 5 plays in excess of 20 yards (I had him at 6 but I will go with the consensus number). Marquand did not manage to force a single fumble over the course of the season – despite his advance billing as a big-hitter, and he also failed to get a single recovery.

    On the plus side, Manuel did make 81 tackles, one more than Nick Collins. He also got his first regular season interception and TD of his career, off of a deflection by former Packer CB Ahmad Carroll. He did manage to defend 2 or 3 (depending on whose count you accept) passes, doubling his pathetic 5 year career total of 5.

    [​IMG]
    Over the course of the 2006 season Manuel often demonstrated why he had been a career backup before coming to Green Bay. Frankly, it is my sincere hope that this 6’ 209 lb SS will return to his previous role of backup in ‘07’ where he may be able to some provide veteran depth and perhaps solid special teams’ contributions.

    ========================================================
    Tyrone Culver, was a surprise coming out of Fresno State as the Packers’ 2nd selection of the 6th round. Most thought he would fight to secure a spot on the developmental squad, instead he became a top reserve and secured a roster spot far quicker than anyone expected.

    Culver came to camp knowing that he must seize any and every opportunity presenting itself. The first came when TT decided to let Roman seek employment elsewhere before camp started. The second came via Manuel’s calf injury. The third coming when Underwood tore up his right knee trying to avoid a block in the first preseason game.

    But to his credit, he took advantage of each opportunity. In his first start against Atlanta in the preseason he picked off Vick in the first quarter. He also made several nice open field tackles. When coupled with his solid play in camp, his play against the Falcons probably sealed the deal of his roster spot – especially since Thompson still anticipated Manuel being the answer come the start of the regular season.

    At 6-1 and 200 lbs, Culver uses his head and instincts to get the most out of his about average athletic ability for a safety (Note: he only appears to be fast when seeing him on the field with Manuel). Tyrone is a solid tackler, contains well in the open field and secures the ball carrier with solid wrap-up and technique. As a rookie he was tirelessly living in the film room as early as the mini-camps and all the way through the season.

    [​IMG]

    With a season of experience and an off-season in GB working out and studying, the 23 yr old Culver expects to hold his roster spot, and compete for the starting Safety job along side of Nick Collins.

    ========================================================
    I have little doubt that if Marviel Underwood had been available, Marquand Manuel would have been riding the pine watching Underwood play by game 3 of the ‘06’ season.

    As a rookie Underwood performed well for a rookie safety taken with the 4th pick out of San Diego State. He stood out on special teams where he led the coverage teams with 23 tackles and earned his way on to the field in dime packages as the season progressed.

    At only 5-10, this 200 lb youngster packs a wallop – he was the only player to force a lost fumble on Shaun Alexander during his record setting ‘05’ season. Underwood has above average speed and quickness for a safety. And despite his freak injury has a solid build that should stand up well to the wear and tear of professional football.

    Marviel explodes well through hits, plays low and gets players to the turf despite sometimes regressing in technique and failing to wrap up ball carriers. Underwood can come up and fill alleys – but he is best in the open field.

    While his coverage skills were raw coming out of college, his superior speed allows him to cover a wide range at safety. He has a fluid style that allows him to cut off his backpedal and recovery speed to cover deep receivers after checking his run responsibilities first.

    He was leading the team in interceptions in training camp – but don’t forget Ahmad. Carroll was picking them off regularly in camp too. However, this did bode well when one considers the negative book on him coming out of college – where he was thought to have poor ball awareness, and was sloppy in switch offs in zone coverage’s.

    [​IMG]

    Marviel Underwood has worked very hard with trainers and made a strong recovery from reconstructive knee surgery in late August. Marviel should be ready to go by June and has to be considered in the mix for competing for a starting job.

    ======================================================
    Atari Bigby, a tough 5-11 and 210 lb Jamaican, came to GB hoping for a break after performing well in NFL-E, instead he broke his hand early in camp. His tenacity and toughness played through, first on the developmental squad and then on the roster in week 10 where he made a name for himself in practice and on special teams.
    [​IMG]
    Atari has good size for a safety, but it is his elite speed that allows this Jamaican born defensive back to man up or run side line to side line. He is an eye-popping explosive hitter. If this hard nosed kid can stay healthy this 25 year old from Central Florida will not only compete for a roster spot, but perhaps for some serious playing time. Neither Marquand Manuel, Tyrone Culver nor Mariel Underwood should get complacent with this physically talented, but raw kid pushing behind them.

    =========================================================
    Charlie Peprah was picked up off waivers from the Giants days before the regular season began. He had a solid career from a SEC school (Alabama), but was obviously not ready for prime time in 2006. Peprah uses his 5-11 200 lb frame well and is a strong physical tackler. He flies up-field to make tackles, but does not always use proper technique in wrapping up and staying on his feet.

    The biggest rap on Charlie is his inconsistency, which hinders his overall play. He can get over-aggressive at times in coverage, and in going for the knock-out hit rather breaking and tackling with solid technique.

    While probably the longest shot of the players listed to this point – his toughness, college pedigree and his hard work will keep him in the mix and at least get him a shot at competing for a roster spot in ‘07’. His off-season work, especially in the film rooms and OTA’s will go along way towards deciding whether he can develop some of his grass green talent.

    =======================================================
    Alvin NNabuife is a 6 foot 210 undrafted free agent from Southern Methodist where he was the team’s Defensive MVP as a junior. Alvin signed a futures contract with the Pack and I believe has been sent to NFL-E, and is probably little more than a camp body. But he will do his damned(ist) to prove critics like me wrong.
    =======================================================


    Since the release of Darren Sharper (maybe before), the Packers have had a need for improved play from the Safety positions. Safety has to be considered a position of need by Ted Thompson headed in to free agency and the ‘07’ draft. The cupboard is not empty, but it sure could use a solid starter to lineup next to the talented youngster Collins.
     
  2. Bruce

    Bruce Cheesehead

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    Back when I wrote my positional analysis series I told you to watch for Atari Bigby to compete for a starting spot. Lori Nickel wrote a piece in yesterday's Milwaukee Journal/Sentinal taking a similar position with the benefit of some OTA action to back it up - her article follows:

    Battle station
    Bigby vying to start at safety

    By LORI NICKEL
    lnickel@journalsentinel.com

    Posted: June 7, 2007
    Green Bay - Atari Bigby is a fighter. Even his name - Atari - loosely translates to mean "attack" in Japanese.[​IMG]
    So it didn't seem off the wall that when discussing his playing style, the third-year Green Bay safety borrowed a line from the film "300":

    "The greatest honor is to die in battle."

    Bigby laughed and must have felt the need to explain.

    "It's a macho thing."

    Actually, it's a competition thing. For all his scrapping, the 25-year-old undrafted free agent might have landed in a battle for a starting job.

    Less than two months from the start of Packers training camp, there is some speculation about whether the Packers will make a change at safety. Bigby, 5 feet 11 inches and 211 pounds, is healthy, physical and pressing a group of young, inexperienced but promising group of defensive backs who have caught the eye of coach Mike McCarthy for the entire off-season.

    "I don't know what I am pushing on the field, but when I am out there I feel like a starter," Bigby said Thursday after the Packers completed their second organized team activity practice open to reporters in the Don Huston Center.

    Lapses by safeties
    Last season, the Packers were solid in pass defense, thanks to the defensive line's pass rush, cornerback Al Harris clamping down on the opponents' top receiver and cornerback Charles Woodson's eight interceptions.

    If the Packers did get beat, it was usually the linebackers who caught the blame, or the safeties. Veteran Marquand Manuel, the Packers' free-agent pickup last year, and Nick Collins gave up 9½ touchdowns combined. Manuel's share - 5½ - was the most by any Packers safety from 1994-2006.

    Manuel had just one interception and knocked down four passes. Nagged by early injuries, he missed 15 tackles, the most on the team. However, he did lead all Green Bay defensive backs with a career-high 103 tackles.

    "Marquand started 16 games for us last year," said Green Bay assistant coach Lionel Washington, who has built a reputation for developing young defensive backs. "You've got to put a lot of stock in that, also. The guy played well for us last year and he's going to come back and play hard for us this yearHe's going to come out and play hard and do what it is going to take to win a spot on this team. I think there's no better love than competition. Guys can go out and compete; they know that the jobs are up and out there. That's why guys are getting good, because of the competition out there and they know there's a vacancy for jobs."

    Not getting in depth
    Washington wouldn't get into jockeying positions on the depth chart just yet, but he did say Manuel had competition in Bigby.

    "Of course, there is competition," Washington said. "Everything will be up to Marquand and the way he handles himself and Bigby and the way he handles himself."

    On Thursday, Manuel declined to comment.

    Bigby joined the Packers' practice squad in November 2005 after tryouts with Miami and the New York Jets.

    In 2006, he led the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe with 61 tackles. But he came back to Green Bay and broke his hand while making a tackle during the Family Night scrimmage early in training camp. He needed surgery and didn't get promoted from the practice squad to the 53-man roster until Week 10. Even then, a hamstring injury sidelined him for two late games.

    He has no such burdens of playing catch-up now. Playing on the second-string defense in practice, behind Manuel and Collins, he can demonstrate that he's more of a well-rounded player.

    "Last year I was in Europe so I didn't have this time to get to know the system," Bigby said. "This year I feel like I know what is going on.

    "I'm not afraid of anything. In college I was put into a situation where I had to be a bloody-type player. I was put in the box a lot. But now I am showing that I can play in space. I am smart enough."

    Going way back
    Bigby and Manuel went to Miami Senior High School together (Manuel was two years ahead). They are workout partners this off-season.

    "I know his work ethic and I know his intentions, and those are good," Bigby said.

    But Bigby said he was also ready for playing time. The knock on him is that he has played in just six NFL games to Manuel's 75.

    "Seeing things at full speed. Once he gets a feel for that, everything is going to take care of itself," Washington said. "Mentally, he's sharp. You can tell just by his instincts, the way he runs the defense, he makes all the checks back there. He's sharp in the classroom.

    "The way he displayed some things last year, I think he could be that type of player. I think he could be that type of punishing player where the receiver goes across the middle, he's going to put something on him."
     
  3. Bruce

    Bruce Cheesehead

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    Of course any discussion on the Safety position needs to factor in 3rd round draft pick Aaron Rouse, a 6-4 220 lb intriguing prospect from Virginia Tech (my article was written long before the draft).

    Rouse had a monster junior season, but struggled greatly in his senior season. Part of this could be attributable to the fact that he never settled into a single position at Virginia Tech (Rouse began as an outside linebacker at Virginia Tech but eventually shifted to safety) which makes him an exceptionally raw prospect with some pretty impressive raw measurable's - like being 6-4 220 and running a 4.37 40.

    I don't think Aaron has a snowball's chance in Hell of competing for a starting spot this season, but he could be a monster on special teams - something Virginia Tech consistently leads college football in season after season. Some of the reasons (besides inexperience) that lead me to say he will not start include how he struggles with his field awareness and playing the football while it's in the air. He also has a reputation for taking the cheap shot/late hit which is being cracked down on hard in the NFL.

    Physically, Rouse has all of the tools, but if he makes it big in the NFL the coaching staff will deserve its fair share of the credit, because he is just as likely to break their hearts and perhaps cost them their jobs if he fails. One factor that often gets overlooked in considering his stone like drop his senior season is that he played with a broken hand - which could speak to some toughness. But with as bad as he played as a senior, I believe the best we can hope for is him squeaking out a roster spot (which will not be easy) and making big contributions on special teams.
     
  4. NDPackerFan

    NDPackerFan Cheesehead

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    Underwood and Collins in the secondary, 2007 with Culver right behind.
     
  5. Bruce

    Bruce Cheesehead

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    The competition will be far more intense than you give it credit for. You could be correct, but I see it as having a number of different just as likely outcomes.
     
  6. NDPackerFan

    NDPackerFan Cheesehead

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    Damn Bruce...this is the 2nd time now. I'm just calling it as I see it playing out in the end. YES, there will be intense competition. :thumbsup:
     
  7. CaliforniaCheez

    CaliforniaCheez Cheesehead

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    For people who complain that nothing was done in free agency I would say mistakes like Manuel have been avoided.

    Peprah was a 5th round pick of the Giants last year.
    Culver a 6th rounder like Manuel will have to earn a spot.
    Bigby is practice squad eligible

    If you go with the young guys three things can happen:

    a) they are worse than Manuel and get replaced.
    b) they are as good as Manuel with a chance to improve.
    c) they are better than Manuel and Manuel is cut.

    Usually 4 safeties make the 53 player roster.
    I like the odds of going with Underwood, Collins, the winner of the Peprah/Culver battle, and rookie Rouse.
     
  8. Zero2Cool

    Zero2Cool I own a website

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    Why must people insist on bolding an entire dang article! C'mon! Yer killin me! lol
     
  9. Pack93z

    Pack93z You retired too? .... Not me. I'm in my prime

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    Well without signing Woodson last year what would of are defense been? Or Pickett? One can dig partial facts to support either argument of free agency.

    You have to be wise to play the FA game... but not playing is also an option too.
     
  10. Zero2Cool

    Zero2Cool I own a website

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    But by signing Woodson and Pickett,... he did play the FA game... right? or no because Ted didn't sign guys you wanted?


    :scratches head:
     
  11. Pack93z

    Pack93z You retired too? .... Not me. I'm in my prime

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    Flipping the argument that Ted doing nothing this year avoided another Manuel mistake as posted... Basically not all FA are bad :thumbsup:
     
  12. CaliforniaCheez

    CaliforniaCheez Cheesehead

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    Wow! can threads take a wrong turn.
    1) I was discussing this season.
    2) All of life involves risk
    3) Managing those risks are what these key decisions are about.
    4) Just because you have money does not mean you HAVE to spend it. Spending wisely is the key.
    5) I thought I was pointing out a positive aspect of THIS offseason in that lower quality past decisions like signing Marquand Manuel, David Martin, Kevin Barry, have been avoided.
     
  13. Zero2Cool

    Zero2Cool I own a website

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    Ahh, I see!

    I don't think it was you that was confusion, I think ADD just kicks in randomly or something. Or maybe it's just a random case of moronicitis I suffered from.



    There were some FA's I wanted, but then I seen what they racked in and I was glad we didn't. I'd really like to have had Moss, but as I have said about him. I think he'd only be an asset if Favre is here and once he retired, well I don't think Moss would respect Rodgers.


    edit, yes i know moss wasn't a FA. i was speaking on the behalf of any off season new acquisitions to the team
     
  14. Popcynical

    Popcynical Cheesehead

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    Great thread here, Bruce. I'm really excited to see how this safety competition works out... who does what in training camp and preseason... and who will be out on the field against the Eagles on the first game of the year.
     
  15. retiredgrampa

    retiredgrampa Cheesehead

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    Lord, is there NO way to avoid bringing Moss into every thread? That horse has been kicked to death. Anyway, I like our prospects at S this year. We have too many talented guys here now for us to NOT have at least three who can step into the starting jobs. Where I felt pain last year, I now feel soothed. Just to see some blood on non-gold helmets, I'd like to see Rouse @6'4" and 220# smack would-be WRs/RBs coming toward him. Simmons was the last to do it. We need another.
     
  16. Raider Pride

    Raider Pride Cheesehead

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    Zero, I kind of like all bold. I do not need to put on my reading glasses.

    Now.... IMHO... ALL CAPITALS and no paragraphs is the death of a post.

    Bruce... Good Read. Thanks for posting it again.

    RP
     
  17. all about da packers

    all about da packers Cheesehead

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    Great read as usual Bruce, enjoyed it throughly.

    I'm wondering if I am counting Marviel Underwood out a little bit. He suffered a very serious injury, and I don't think he will be 100% ready to go when the season starts.

    With that said, I think even a 90% healthy Underwood wouldn't be as bad as Manuel was last year. I just hope if Underwood does get the job, he is 100%, so he doesn't risk suffering the same injury again.
     
  18. Zero2Cool

    Zero2Cool I own a website

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    Ahh, but did you enjoy it as much as the first time he posted in a new thread here? That tiz the question!!
     

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