When veteran Atari Bigby was activated from the physically unable to perform list in time for the Week 9 contest against Dallas, the safety position became a deep one with Nick Collins and Charlie Peprah holding down the starting duties and Bigby and veteran Anthony Smith backing up.
But fast forward to the next game at Minnesota in Week 11 when Bigby (hamstring) and Smith (ankle) both left the game with injuries, and that quickly changed. Bigby has been ruled out for Sunday’s game at Atlanta and Smith is doubtful, so Bush has entered the picture again at safety as the top backup, where the coaches feel that he is up to the task if called upon.
“Jarrett works his tail off,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “I always feel good about Jarrett because he’s into it, he works. If there’s something that’s not right, normally he’ll work at it and get it right. He’s a conscientious guy.
“He’s a guy we’ve moved around a bunch. He’s had to play safety for us before. If he has to go in there, I feel confident he’ll go in there and do a good job for us.”
In 2009, Bush worked primarily at dime back and backup safety in the first half of the season, but stepped into the nickel cornerback role for the final six games after Al Harris went down with a season-ending knee injury and Tramon Williams moved into Harris’ starting spot.
Bush has primarily been a special-teams contributor this season, posting six tackles as well as a forced fumble and a fumble recovery, both of them coming against Dallas. But his defensive versatility was on display earlier in the year when the secondary was battling its way through some injuries.
Bush was pressed into action at the nickel spot in Week 4 against Detroit with rookie cornerback Sam Shields sidelined with a calf injury, playing a season-high 67 snaps and registering five tackles and two pass breakups. But just a few days later he was taking reps in practice at safety with rookie Morgan Burnett lost for the season with a knee injury and Peprah and Derrick Martin both nursing injuries of their own.
Peprah ended up being healthy enough to start and play the entire game at Washington, but Bush said the week leading up to the Redskins game things really started to click for him at safety, his confidence growing as he played faster and became more assignment-sure.
“He actually has taken that next step at safety as far as helping us,” Peprah said. “He went back to corner, we needed him back at safety, and it looks like the game has slowed down. I think they are not even worried about the depth situation now because Jarrett has really come along and making all of the checks and everything. He looks great, he looks good. We’ll be all right.”
Bush said his preparation during the week has been consistent all season, and that hasn’t changed this week even though he very likely will be the top backup at both safety spots on Sunday.
“You’ve still got to prepare as a starter because there is a lot of crazy stuff that happens in the NFL,” Bush said. “It happened my rookie year, it happened my third year where guys go down one after another. That’s the way it is. Football is a contact game and people get hurt. I’ve just got to stay prepared as a starter and be ready if my number is called.”
Veteran left tackle Chad Clifton has had his share of challenging matchups in the past month, facing elite pass rushers in three of the last four games, and he could be lined up across from another one this Sunday at Atlanta.
Clifton faced perennial Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen of the Vikings twice in the last four games, limiting him to just one sack, as well as Pro Bowl linebacker DeMarcus Ware of Dallas, whom he shut out in the Packers’ Week 9 victory.
Next up could be Falcons defensive end John Abraham, who was limited in practice on Friday for the second straight day because of a groin injury that forced him to miss Atlanta’s game at St. Louis last Sunday. It was the first time the 11-year veteran had been sidelined due to injury since 2006, snapping a streak of 62 consecutive games played.
Abraham ranks tied for No. 6 in the NFL this season with eight sacks in eight games, including three two-sack games in his last five contests. The last time the Packers played the Falcons, a 27-24 Atlanta win at Lambeau Field on Oct. 5, 2008, Abraham recorded one sack of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He finished that season with a franchise-record 16½ sacks, good for No. 3 in the league.
“I think he’s a dynamic pass rusher,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “He played very well against us up here two years ago, and he’s playing at a high level right now. Anytime you play against someone like John’s ability, it’s a different game on turf. He’s going to be an excellent challenge for us.
“Chad’s playing in my opinion, Chad Clifton, his best football in my time here, and (Abraham) does have the ability to go to the other side. In our last contest they played him on both sides. That’s something that we’ve prepared for.”
Clifton (knee), wide receiver Donald Driver (quadriceps), defensive end Cullen Jenkins (calf), linebacker Clay Matthews (shin), defensive end Ryan Pickett (ankle), center Scott Wells (arch) and cornerback Charles Woodson (toe) are all probable for Sunday.
For Atlanta, running back Antone Smith (hamstring) is doubtful, while Abraham and safety Shann Schillinger (head) are questionable.
Linebacker Curtis Lofton (knee), defensive tackle Corey Peters (rib), wide receiver Eric Weems (pectoral) and wide receiver Roddy White (knee) are probable.
Additional coverage – Nov. 26