Safety Battle Over Before It Starts

S Atari Bigby (Scott Boehm/Getty)

Atari Bigby will need ankle surgery, with the four-week recovery putting third-round pick Morgan Burnett in command of the starting battle. Barring a mental meltdown, Burnett will have every opportunity to lock up the position. (Note: This story has been updated with more news from the morning.)

Atari Bigby's year is going from bad to worse.

First, he wanted the security of a long-term contract that wasn't forthcoming. Now, he's about to lose his starting job without so much as stepping on the practice field.

Bigby will have arthroscopic surgery to remove scar tissue in his troublesome ankle on Friday. The surgery and rehab — a "cleanup" of the procedure he had following the 2008 season — are expected to keep him out for four weeks, which means all of training camp.

"Being injured, not playing — and playing's what I do — that's not a good thing," Bigby said. "But hopefully I can get this thing right. I feel like once I'm healthy, the ball is in my court, I can control my destiny."

That may be wishful thinking. Third-round pick Morgan Burnett hasn't been perfect but he's off to a strong start during the first week of training camp. Considering Bigby skipped the offseason practices while refusing to sign his restricted free agent tender and now will miss training camp and almost certainly won't be ready to play in the regular-season opener at Philadelphia, Burnett will have ample opportunity seize control of the starting job.

"I just go out every day and just work hard and try to get better and just want to learn as quickly as I can, so whenever my number is called, I'll be prepared and ready," Burnett said. "I just want to earn the trust and the respect of our coaches and my teammates."

Earning that trust is the big thing, which means Burnett must know the defense inside and out and be able to adapt to heat-of-the-moment adjustments made by the offense.

"He's got a lot on his plate, and he is a rookie and we cant lose sight of that," safeties coach Darren Perry said. "But his progress has been steady; we've just got to keep him going in the right direction. Been very pleased up to this point. The thing that you have to understand is that we haven't played any games. We know once we get into the preseason the tempo is going to pick up, and this system is very complicated and he's still learning. Every day is something new. The big thing is technique and seeing things. It's a different game at this level as far as routes, how you play things, the talent level, so he's really got to be on point, and I think he's understanding that going up against our guys, particularly the receivers, the tight ends, the quarterback."

On the field, Burnett is leaning on the experience of two-time Pro Bowler Nick Collins as well as Bigby, who Burnett repeatedly has said has been especially helpful as a sounding board when they discuss things on the sideline.

Perry said he's trying to walk the fine line of bringing Burnett up to speed quickly but too not quickly so that's information overload.

The process is going well, Burnett said, though he knows he's got a lot of work to do.

"You've got to go study your playbook, try to quiz yourself and look over your notes that you jotted down," Burnett said. "When you're out doing the job-through, that's when you get all your questions asked, and then the film room and the individual meetings."

If all goes well, he'll earn the trust and respect he craves — and the defense needs.

"That's anybody's goal. The defense has got to rely on you back there as a safety," Collin said. "If anything goes down, you have their backs. Until he gains everybody's trust — I know he's got our trust in the secondary. We know that if he gets put in a starting role, he's going to come out there and do what he has to do and we're going to trust him. It's getting the other seven guys to believe in him. I think he's making strides."

Four-point stance

— The Packers announced they put undrafted rookie receiver Jeff Motrui on season-ending injured reserve with an ankle injury and signed Jason Chery. Chery, from Louisiana-Lafayette, was an undrafted free agent last year who spent some time on the Panthers' and Steelers' practice squads.

— The NFL sent an officiating crew to toss flags on practice. The officials are in town to meet with the team regarding rules changes and points of emphasis.

— It was a veterans-day-off practice. That meant Charles Woodson, Brandon Chillar, Nick Barnett, Scott Wells, Mark Tauscher, Chad Clifton, Cullen Jenkins, Ryan Pickett, Donald Driver and Donald Lee got the morning off. All have seven or more years of experience. They all are expected to practice tonight. Brad Jones (back), Daryn Colledge (elbow), Marshall Newhouse (concussion), Greg Jennings (personal) and Justin Harrell (heat) returned.

— In two-minute situations, Aaron Rodgers' pass was picked off by Pat Lee and Graham Harrell's pass was either tipped or thrown poorly and intercepted by Robert Francois. The defense has kept Rodgers out of the end zone in every two-minute drill in camp.


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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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