Camp battles heat up

Will Blackmon

Blackmon gains edge as return specialist; Bush takes lead in backup cornerback race

In the wake of a potentially long-term knee injury sustained by top kickoff returner Shaun Bodiford to start the preseason game Aug. 18, Blackmon literally went a long way toward probably wrapping up the dual role of kickoff and punt returner.

The second-year cornerback ripped off an 83-yard kickoff return in the first quarter, setting up a go-ahead, 1-yard touchdown run by Brandon Jackson in the 48-13 rout of the Seahawks. On his next touch of the football, Blackmon had a 16-yard punt return.

"He fields the ball good. He has a knack for getting loose. He's a powerful kid," special teams coordinator Mike Stock said.

The speedy Blackmon essentially is a redshirt freshman in the league after being limited to four games last year because of foot and rib injuries. Punt-return candidates Greg Jennings and Charles Woodson are injury prone, so the team wants to preserve them for their respective starting duties at receiver and cornerback. Likewise, the team prefers not to expose rookie Jones, who has emerged as the No. 3 receiver.

Stock said Woodson could be used on punt returns on a situational basis. David Clowney is as fast as Blackmon but has yet to stand out on kickoff returns to this point, and the rookie receiver isn't a good bet to make the team right now.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS
Jarrett Bush vs. Patrick Dendy vs. Will Blackmon vs. Frank Walker at nickel cornerback --
Bush should have the inside track for the job after building on a solid preseason with two interceptions in the Aug. 18 win over Seattle. His ball skills are a cut above the others. However, he dropped a gimme third interception in the game.

Dave Rayner vs. Mason Crosby for kicker -- The two combatants had plenty of opportunities to work on their extra-point kicks in the 48-13 pounding of the Seahawks. Crosby was given first chance in a field-goal situation and made his only attempt, from 37 yards.

Rayner later converted a chip shot of 24 yards. Both were equally strong, as usual, on kickoffs. So far, rookie Crosby has a slight edge on incumbent Rayner after each has kicked more than 100 field goals in team situations at practice.

Donald Lee vs. Bubba Franks for the starting tight end job -- Perhaps Franks is ready to reclaim the starting job he lost after seven years. Able to see better after scrapping a protective shield he had been wearing in practice because of a scratched cornea, vintage Franks was on display early in the last game, catching three passes from Brett Favre and picking up two first downs in just one series. Franks finished with four receptions for 30 yards, a week after he dropped the only pass thrown his way. Lee, meanwhile, didn't have a catch in making a second straight start.

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