A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.
Organized team activities can foster a skewed NFL reality based on non-contact practices, disproportionate attention on young players and contract squabbles that almost always are resolved by training camp. So we should mix some hesitation with an otherwise clear set of clues that the Green Bay Packers are giving rookie Morgan Burnett a solid foundation to one day unseat veteran safety Atari Bigby.
Bigby is a restricted free agent who hasn't signed his tender and thus isn't participating in OTAs. He's been a productive player when healthy but has missed 12 games with a variety of ailments over the past two seasons. The Packers recently rewarded Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins with a contract extension, but it's not clear if they have enough faith in Bigby to do the same.
That the Packers traded up to draft Burnett suggests his presence has some intent. He has been working with the first team for most OTAs and coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday he has been "very impressed." McCarthy said Burnett has appeared particularly comfortable from a communication standpoint and added: "I think he's off to a good start. I think he's a very natural football player."
You would expect to hear those keywords from a coach who has a veteran starter sitting out practices; nothing like a little motivation to report. You would also expect a quote similar to the one McCarthy provided on Bigby:
"I think all of our players understand the importance of the OTAs, particularly the players that have been here in the past, the opportunities that they're given and the time that the coaching staff puts into these OTAs and the individual time that's available afterwards. Anytime a player misses these, it's an opportunity that is wasted as far as being with his teammates. But we can't deny there are business situations that surround our business, and that's no different for Atari or any others that have not been here."
Much of this dynamic depends on Burnett. If he proves ready to start as a rookie, the Packers could have an interesting training camp competition. But if he's like most third-round draft picks and needs extra time, Bigby will slide back to his role for at least one more season.