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Safety issues explain latest moves by Packers

It's getting hard to follow along with the game of musical chairs the Green Bay Packers are playing at safety. Let's see, after the team kept 2007 third-round draft pick Aaron Rouse and released unrestricted free agent Anthony Smith on cutdown da...

It's getting hard to follow along with the game of musical chairs the Green Bay Packers are playing at safety.

Let's see, after the team kept 2007 third-round draft pick Aaron Rouse and released unrestricted free agent Anthony Smith on cutdown day, it turned around and cut Rouse two games into the season even though starters Nick Collins and Atari Bigby are injured.

Unless Collins makes a rapid recovery from a clavicle injury, that leaves Derrick Martin and Jarrett Bush as the potential starters Sunday at St. Louis with Matt Giordano as the backup. Martin arrived via trade three weeks ago, Giordano was signed off the street this week and Bush is on the roster only because he excels at special teams.

Go ahead and rip general manager Ted Thompson for the thin ranks at safety if you must, but as you argue over the Packers' decision to keep Rouse over Smith and then ending up without either one, there is something you should probably keep in mind:

Neither one fits into the Packers' new defense.

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The complex 3-4 scheme that new coordinator Dom Capers has installed is a high-risk, high-reward defense with a track record of success. If Capers is going to have the confidence to take chances up front, which is what makes the defense tick, then he has to be absolutely sure that the safeties -- the last line of defense -- are always in the proper position.

Not some of the time. Not most of the time. Not almost all of the time.

Every time.

Without fail.

Capers clearly didn't have that feeling with Smith, who, despite making several big plays during the exhibition season, was often out of position.

The biggest surprise there was that Smith had a better working knowledge of the defense than any of the safeties because he played three years in the same defense at Pittsburgh. I guess that tells you why the Steelers let someone with his playmaking skills walk in free agency.

Rouse is so tall -- 6-foot-4 -- that he had trouble mastering some of the techniques the new Packers defense requires. He missed most of training camp with a hamstring injury, so the Packers probably didn't want to release him without at least giving him a shot in a game, which makes sense.

Rouse started against Cincinnati Sunday and made some tackles, but he also was out of position on two big plays, which is why the Packers decided to cut their losses and go in a different direction. The fact that Rouse suffered a neck stinger during the game and wasn't a sure thing for this Sunday probably made the decision even easier.

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Capers has said often that the safeties are the quarterbacks of his defense, the guys who have to recognize pre- and post-snap developments and react accordingly. It stands to reason that Capers can't have safeties he doesn't trust, which meant that Rouse and Smith, despite their proven playmaking skills, weren't any more valuable to him than the guys who replaced them.

-- Copyright (c) 2009, The Wisconsin State Journal/Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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