It remains to been seen whether Morgan Burnett can beat out Atari Bigby for the starting safety job opposite Nick Collins. That will be determined by the rookie’s progress and the veteran’s health. What’s far more certain is that Burnett is going to play a lot of snaps on defense this season. Anyone who watched the former Georgia Tech star during the first week of training camp knows he’s too athletic not to be on the field in obvious passing situations. Whether that comes at Bigby’s expense – assuming his ankle even allows him to be on the field – depends on the health of Al Harris and the progress of Pat Lee and Brandon Underwood.
In a perfect world, defensive coordinator Dom Capers would use Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams, Al Harris, Collins and Burnett in the nickel. This would give the Packers three true cornerbacks and a pair of safeties with corner skills to defend on third and long. It would also turn the slow-footed but physical Bigby into essentially a two-down player – which is exactly the role he should’ve been filling all along. There were many reasons why the pass defense was eviscerated by almost every quality quarterback it faced last season – chief among them being Bigby’s lack of speed and range.
Offenses are too wide open and receivers are too fast these days to expect a player like Bigby to hold up in coverage. A decade ago, former Packer Aaron Rouse (6-4, 227) might’ve been able to thrive and Taylor Mays (6-3, 230) would’ve been a top 10 draft pick. Today, the former is barely hanging on in the NFL and the latter is just another second-round pick trying to make a name for himself with the 49ers. In a case of damning someone with faint praise, assistant coach Darren Perry said this about his incumbent starting safety: “He wasn’t as bad as people made him out to be. You can win with Atari Bigby.” The thing is, you can win more with less of him. And that’s literally where Burnett will come in.
*This story was posted before Mike McCarthy announced that Atari Bigby will undergo ankle surgery.
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