Overall – I expect a decent season from our secondary. However, much of their performance will be influenced by the play of the D-Line. If Pickett comes back and Jolly plays like we think he can and the line falls in place, that will help the LBs and the secondary look good. If not, the secondary may end up looking more responsible for big plays than they truly are. I do expect more turnover plays from both the LBs and the secondary. I’m looking for big years from Woodson and Bigby in particular and a make or break year from Collins. TT has done a nice job of stocking the secondary with some good back-up CBs and safeties.
Al Harris – I like Al Harris. He is a true professional. He works hard and takes a lot of pride in what he does. He quietly had 2 or so years in there a couple years ago where he may have been the best CB in the game (tons of interceptions are not as important as shutting down #1 receivers, something Harris did week in and week out). However, last year, he started to lose it somewhat. Many point to the Giants game and that surely was a glaring example (though Plax also just played incredibly well). But there were signs of a decrease in reaction time and quickness from earlier in the season. He still can be effective bumping WRs off the line and making solid plays, but I’m not so sure he’ll be able to get back to that dominating level again. This year, I can see Harris playing well, nothing special, but still above average. Maybe a few more picks than he would normally have.
Charles Woodson – Woodson is an interesting guy. I enjoy watching him because he does have a knack for making plays. Anytime he is on the field, he can make something happen – an interception, an alert fumble recovery runback, etc. He is talented and he has been a valuable addition to the team and to the locker room. He, like Harris, may be slowing down a bit though. I still think he will be effective and we may see more big plays from him this year if the D-line can figure things out. It’s interesting, with Woodson, he often goes down hurt but rarely remains injured. Injuries for Woodson and Harris remain a concern for me as they age too. Still, I think Woodson also has an above-average season and maybe even a great one if the D-Line can adequately pressure the QB.
Atari Bigby – Bigby has improved quite a bit over the last year. I remember being quite frustrated with his stupid penalties early last year and wondering if he could hack it back there at safety. Well, he proved for the most part that he’s up to the task. It is just plain exciting and effective to have a guy who’s not afraid to blow up a pass by popping someone. It is scary for opposing receivers to go into our secondary and that is a nice psychological advantage for the Packers defense. However, Bigby still has not ironed out his coverage issues. My guess is that he will be better in this department this year, but it’s still something to watch. If Bigby plays reasonably well and has a few highlight hits, he might have an outside chance at the Pro Bowl – maybe not because he totally deserves it but because he’s exciting. Here’s a Bigby nugget: Bigby is on record stating that playing soccer for most of his life is the main reason his footwork is so sound as a football player (Wes Welker makes the same claim).
Nick Collins – I was one of those who liked Collins from the start and I’m glad that the team is trying to give him every chance to succeed. However, I have also become one of those who has liked Rouse from the start and am growing a bit antsy re this whole thing. If Collins can’t perform early on, I would not have a problem moving Rouse to starter. Collins is very fast and there is a measure of comfort having a speed guy hovering back there just in case. But just when I think he’s becoming a good tackler/hitter, he’ll miss 2 easy tackles like in the last preseason game. Collins is in the Poppinga category: he has this season to shine or be replaced as the starter.
Aaron Rouse – he’s sort of like Ruvell Martin in that he has pretty much done whatever has been asked of him and picked up a few valuable turnovers in the process. Turnovers aren’t everything, but throw in the fact that he’s massive too and can put the hurt on someone like Bigby can, and that makes for a compelling case. If we had Rouse and Bigby as our safeties, I think opposing WRs, RBs and maybe even TEs would think twice before running any routes over the middle of the field. That psychological factor can be huge, especially if Rouse and Bigby would be able to excel in other facets of their jobs. We’ll see how Collins performs. I’d give him 4-6 games and if he’s not doing it, put Rouse in there.
Tramon Williams – Williams is a great story and a player lots of fans can get behind. He is valuable on special teams, he is valuable in the secondary and he may be one of the starting CBs of the future. Even when Tramon gets beaten on a pass play, he is right on the guy and makes the catch a difficult one. He is quick, ath-a-let-ic, as Rich Gannon would say, and he’s seems to get the scheme etc.
Will Blackmon – Blackmon is a player who has tested the patience of the staff as well as fans. His injuries have been annoying mostly because we’ve all seen flashes of his potential. At one point, he said he can return punts “in my sleep” – I like a guy who is so confident about punt returns, but perhaps more than anything, I like a guy who is pumped about being able to return punts. He will be a very valuable special teams contributor this year. But I also like him as a corner because he gives us one dimension we lack with a Jarrett Bush or Tramon Williams – he’s long and he plays tall. Blackmon isn’t a giant (and is actually the same height as Bush) but he’s longer and rangier than the others and may give the team a nice back-up option for defending some of the taller receivers.
Pat Lee – he looks really good to me for a rookie. I’ve heard some say he may be a practice squad guy or may not even make the team. I don’t get that. He has had some monster hits, some great passes defensed, and some overall savvy play for a rookie. He has made a few coverage mistakes, but I think he’s done well. I expect him to come along fast this year.
Joe Porter – he’s a guy who seems to be all over the place when he plays. He has quietly impressed me when he’s been in, though I have seen him give up a few completions. Jason Wilde thinks he can play.
Charlie Peprah – he was injured recently but I don’t think it will hurt his chances of making the team. He actually had a really good game in his first preseason game. He looked to have bulked up over the offseason and they say he’s got a good understanding of the game. He’s the kind of player who may end up spending his career waiting for an injury or a break to get on the field and then being fairly good.
Tyrone Culver – he’s not bad and the word on him also is that he understands the game well and would be a great leader of a secondary…if he weren’t stuck behind some quality players. When he came out of college, I thought this guy was going to be really good. Not a bad back-up for now.
Scorpio Babers – haven’t noticed him much on the field yet, but I’ve noticed his name. Wow.
UPDATE: Thanks Schaef for catching the Bush oversight. Remember early last year when Bush was so…good? Remember that? He would blanket receivers and make plays. He was very solid. Then that quickly changed and he became the guy teams picked on. He weathered a lot of criticism last year to be invited back this year. Part of that may be due to some valuable contributions on special teams (with the exception of the big missed fumble recovery). Bush will likely make the team due to his special teams contributions, but also because he can fill in at CB too. We’ve seen flashes of the talent, but we’ve also seen massive inconsistency. If I were to rank the back-up CBs, I’d put Bush tied for 3rd with Pat Lee, behind Williams and Blackmon.