CAMP BODIES PART 4 DEFENSIVE BACKS Jerry Gilbert 7/20/2007
On paper, the Green Bay Packers should be set at defensive back. They return their top three corners, Al Harris, Charles Woodson and Patrick Dendy, and, in the only significant free agent signing thus far, General Manager Ted Thompson added veteran corner back Frank Walker. Returning from injured reserve is 2006 draft choice Will Blackmon. The starters at safety, Nick Collins and Marquand Manuel, also return along with top reserve Tyrone Culver who was drafted last year. As with corner, there is a highly touted returnee form injured reserve, 2006 draftee Marviel Underwood. Finally, the Packers used a third round pick in 2007 to add safety Aaron Rouse. Five safeties and five corners would appear to more than fill the roster. Nevertheless, some camp bodies return from the last year and more have been added.
The cornerback with the best chance to crack the roster is Jarrett Bush 6-0 197 Utah State. Timed in college at 4.45 and having shown coverage skills, Bush was signed as a free agent by Carolina and was one of their final cuts before the 2006 season. He made 13 tackles and defensed 3 passes along with a fumble recovery in the preseason for the Panthers. Because Green Bay was so thin at corner following the wasted draft choices of Ahmad Carroll and Joey Thomas and the failed experiment with Jason Horton, Ted Thompson quickly signed Bush to the roster, and the cornerback played in every game on special teams and was the third leading tackler. As a gunner on the punt unit Bush was frequently charging the waiting returner or battling to keep the punt out of the end zone. He remains a camp body, because of the lack of game changing plays on special teams and his inability to add much in the nickel and dime. However, he now has a full season of experience and is in the mix at cornerback.
Jarrett Bush was not nationally a high profile player in college, but was a consistent performer. He began in junior college as a defensive back and kick returner and was all conference both years and all state as a sophomore. Both in junior college and at Utah State, Bush competed in track as a long jumper, hurdler and member of the 4X100 meter relay team. Also successful in football, although he was only a starter as a senior, Bush was honored as All Western Athletic Conference following that season. Although not noted as a big hitter, Bush was a wrestler in high school, which may help explain his success in tackling. Bush will be in the mix at cornerback
The other camp body corners are Antonio Malone and Tramon Williams. By coincidence, I was at training camp last season when Malone was signed. He played in one preseason game and was cut before the season began. Re-signed in January, Malone was allocated to Europe and has now returned to compete in Green Bay. The disoriented but willing performer I saw last summer will be worth watching again this season. Tramon Williams was added to the practice squad in November and remained there the final weeks of the season.
Antonio Malone 6-0 200 4.59 Toledo is described by scouts as playing fast and as a good college cover corner, but he was not drafted probably because of a slow forty at the combine and reduced production as a senior compared to his junior campaign. In a pro day work out he ran a 4.4, which raised his stock enough to be signed by Detroit. He also displayed above average 10 yard and three cone drill times and scored 23 of 29 on the Wonderlic. The Lions waived Malone prior to Training Camp, but he was signed by Green Bay in August. The fact that Antonio Malone was not signed to any practice squad last season adds to the conclusion that he is only a camp body.
Tramon Williams 5-11 194 4.59 Louisiana Tech is another camp body. Williams was way under the radar in college, and only his 37.5 vertical at his pro day sets him apart as an athlete. Houston signed him originally and he stuck until the final cuts. At Louisiana Tech, Williams was a starter for a season and a half and made some interceptions. He apparently was of enough value on the scout team to last 5 weeks on the Green Bay practice squad. Williams should be around into the preseason games. For what it is worth, his father's name is Ted Williams.
The camp body safeties provide three interesting names, Atari Bigby, Alvin Nnabuife and Charlie Peprah. Fans can hope for preseason success for these men if only to hear what Chris Berman of ESPN might do with the names.
Charlie Peprah 5-11 202 Alabama was on the Packer roster all last season and was active for half the games playing exclusively on special teams. A safety with some coverage ability, Peprah was a cornerback for 2 years for the Crimson Tide before switching to safety. During his four years in the Southeast Conference, Peprah started 45 games with 210 tackles including 9 for a loss. He forced 4 fumbles and recovered 5. His 9 interceptions produced 224 yards and 2 touchdowns. The New York Giants drafted Peprah in the 5th round but released him prior to the season, probably intending to keep him on the practice squad. Green Bay claimed the safety for their roster. Charlie Peprah did not play on the defensive unit last season, but following a full year of training camp, he is a candidate for the last safety position on the final 53.
Like Peprah, Atari Bigby 5-11 214 Central Florida has some experience with the team. He impressed the coaches in training camp last season enough that they kept him on the practice squad despite an injury suffered even before the preseason during "Family Night". Added to the regular roster later in 2006, Bigby played in five games before sustaining another season ending injury. Injuries are an issue with Bigby. During his college career, he missed games or practices with injuries at different times to his left wrist and shoulder and his right knee and hamstring. When playing, he recorded an impressive 296 tackles often playing "in the box" and roaming sideline-to-sideline Allocated to NFL Europe in 2006, Bigby started every game for Amsterdam and performed well. The extent of his ability to cover receivers and the luck to stay healthy will determine Bigby's season. For now, he is a high-end camp body with a shot to be on the opening day roster.
Alvin Nnabuife 6-1 210 Southern Methodist is, because of the competition, relegated to camp body status with little chance to make the final roster. The story here is strength. At SMU, weighing 208 pounds, Nnabuife bench pressed 341 and squatted over 500. In a strength index that his coaches used, which included the 40 and the other familiar tests of speed, agility and leg strength along with weight lifting, Nnabuife scored the highest on the team. He spent part of his career at linebacker because the team needed him there, but his size and 4.6 speed are better suited to his regular position at safety. To imitate the great Mr. Berman, we can hope that this player stays around awhile and does not vanish "Nnabuife of Smoke".
The Green Bay media has already hyped Bigby, and Peprah and Bush were solid special team performers last season. This is a fairly impressive camp body group, but most will not make the team when the season begins.