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Packers rookies Burnett, Shields to start opener

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Associated Press
September 11, 2010
— Dom Capers hasn't been against starting NFL newcomers in his nearly 20 years as a head coach or defensive coordinator.

"We put 'em out there, we expect for them to perform," said Capers, the Packers' second-year defensive coordinator.


The Green Bay roster has been a fountain of youth the last few years, and the Packers are giving rookies Morgan Burnett and Sam Shields key roles in an injury-depleted secondary for the season opener Sunday at Philadelphia.


Burnett, a third-round draft pick, has been a starter at safety since the offseason in place of Atari Bigby, who is on the physically unable to perform list. Shields, a converted receiver who wasn't drafted, spent this week in practice as the team's frequently used third cornerback with Al Harris and Brandon Underwood sidelined.


"We like both of our young guys," Capers said.


Green Bay has been left with little choice but to go young at those spots to start the season.


The Packers' injury woes on defense increased Friday when Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Woodson jammed his toe toward the end of practice.


"(He) just stepped on the back of one of our receivers' foot," coach Mike McCarthy said. "(We're) just being cautious, and we sent him up to the training room for some rehab."


McCarthy indicated that Woodson injured the same toe that has bothered him at times since he broke it in 2008. The team added Woodson to the injury report as probable for Sunday's game. McCarthy is confident the 2009 AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year will be ready to play.


"When you've got guys like Charles, you want to keep them healthy and keep them playing," Capers said.


The Packers already are without two of their four primary starting defensive backs from last season. Harris will miss at least the first six games as he completes his rehabilitation from major knee surgery late in the 2009 season. Without Harris, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, the Packers are starting Tramon Williams opposite Woodson.


The nickel spot previously occupied by Williams was Underwood's until he sustained a shoulder injury late in the preseason, which has him out for the first game.


That meant a promotion for Shields, whose blazing speed and good instincts for the football earned him a roster spot only a year after he made the move from offense to defense in college at Miami.


"The position is still new to him, but he has approached it the right way," Packers cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr. said. "He's put more study time in here than anybody else, and he's trying to get himself ready to play at a high level. He hasn't blinked yet. But, will he on game day? I don't know."


Shields led Green Bay with two interceptions and five pass breakups in the preseason. He said Friday that going against the Packers' receiving duo of Greg Jennings and Donald Driver in practice during camp has prepared him well for the challenge of going against the Eagles' talented tandem of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.


"Sticking to them every day," Shields said of Jennings and Driver, "that's going to help me out a lot when it comes to Sunday."


Packers safeties coach Darren Perry expects the Eagles and first-year starting quarterback Kevin Kolb to try to attack Burnett with downfield throws early in the game.


"Just to test him," Perry said. "He's aware of that, and he'll be ready for it."



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