Bigby missed the Packers’ entire offseason program, electing to work out on his own rather than at the team’s facility as an unsigned restricted free agent. Bigby signed his tender on Friday in time for training camp, but a lingering ankle injury that hampered him throughout the 2008 campaign flared up during his conditioning test on Friday, and Bigby was unable to pass his physical.
“I am concerned,” McCarthy said. “Everybody is concerned. I haven’t had an opportunity to talk to Atari. He has had the ankle injury and it is something that has bothered him in the past. Hopefully we can get the answer for that and he can get out there and get ready to go.”
Bigby originally injured his left ankle during a preseason game at Denver two years ago, and was limited to just seven games in the ’08 season because of the ankle as well as hamstring and shoulder injuries. He sustained a knee injury in Week 1 last season vs. Chicago, which sidelined him for the next three contests, but returned to play in the final 12 games, finishing the year with 54 tackles and four interceptions.
Bigby is expected to see competition for his starting spot from rookie Morgan Burnett, who was selected by Green Bay in the third round this April out of Georgia Tech. Known for his playmaking ability in college, highlighted by his 14 interceptions in just three seasons, Burnett saw extensive time with the first unit throughout OTAs and mini-camp due to Bigby’s absence.
While Burnett impressed with his athleticism during offseason work, the true test starts Saturday once the pads finally go on.
“I really like what the young man has done in the underwear practices,” McCarthy said. “He’s very smart. I think he’s a very good communicator, showed a lot of athletic ability. Those types of things that you can see in the OTAs. Everybody is very pleased.
“He has an opportunity in front of him, and I think he has gotten off to a good start, good foundation. Really like his work ethic. I’m excited to see him out there.”
Another member of last year’s starting defensive backfield, cornerback Al Harris, will also begin camp on the PUP list as he continues his rehabilitation from a season-ending left knee injury sustained in Week 11 last season against San Francisco.
During an interview in early June, the 35-year-old Harris declined to put a timetable on when he thought he would return from his injury, but he didn’t rule out being ready for the Packers’ season opener at Philadelphia on Sept. 12. McCarthy said he would “purely be speculating” on Harris’ chances to do that, but he didn’t rule the reliable veteran out either.
“The doctor is very encouraged with Al, particularly the last three weeks,” McCarthy said. “He has really done a great job of attacking this rehab. So I do not have a timeframe, but he is really coming on strong, and that is a credit to his work ethic and to our medical staff
“I would not be surprised (if he was back for Week 1). If you were to have asked me three or four weeks ago, I would have probably said no, but the report that I was given today by Dr. Pat McKenzie, he has made a lot of progress.”
Rookie running back James Starks, a sixth-round selection out of the University at Buffalo, will start off his rookie season on the PUP list due to a hamstring injury, one that he originally sustained early on during OTAs in May.
Three other players returning from injuries, defensive end Justin Harrell (back), tight end Spencer Havner (shoulder), and tackle T.J. Lang (wrist), will all be full participants starting with Saturday’s opening camp practice. McCarthy said Lang will wear a brace on his wrist.
An opportunity on the line
When the Packers open up at Philadelphia in Week 1, they will have a new starter at left defensive end.
Johnny Jolly, who started all 16 games there in ’09, was suspended indefinitely by the league on July 16 for violating the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse. The suspension will continue through at least the 2010 season.
“Johnny Jolly has been a good football player for us,” McCarthy said. “Johnny is definitely a tough guy. He has a tremendous energy, particularly on game day. Anytime a player goes down or is not available, and we always talk about that as a football team, availability and accountability are two building blocks in our foundation of how we approach things as a team.
“It’s an opportunity for other players to step up and we’re fortunate enough to have depth at that position. Our young guys will have an opportunity to fill that void.”
During the offseason, veteran Ryan Pickett was repped extensively at the left end spot after serving as the starting nose tackle last season, and is still expected to provide depth in the middle. Second-year man B.J. Raji is expected to start at the nose, with Harrell, second-year player Jarius Wynn, and rookies Mike Neal and C.J. Wilson competing for time at the end spots behind Pickett and veteran Cullen Jenkins.
“Ryan, this is the best shape I’ve seen him in our time here,” McCarthy said. “Very happy with his offseason and the way he’s reported. I think people underestimate the guy’s foot speed, his quickness and his instincts. I think Ryan will do an excellent job out there.”
With rookie offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga (No. 23 pick overall) agreeing to terms on a contract with the team on Friday morning, the Packers have all seven of their 2010 draft selections signed in time for camp.
“I’m very happy to have all of the rookies signed,” McCarthy said. “It’s obviously more of a challenge to get your first-round pick done in time, so you would like to acknowledge Bryan and his group and Russ Ball and the job that they did. It is very important for young players to be in camp on time, just the practice time, the meeting time, those are days you just can’t get back.
“You see it time and time again when players miss because of contract negotiations that they fall behind, so we feel very good about the fact that all of our rookies are here and ready to go.”
To get down to the 80-man roster limit after Bigby signed his tender, the Packers waived rookie linebacker John Russell on Friday. The team also placed non-drafted rookie nose tackle Aleric Mullins on the reserve/did not report list.
“(Mullins) has decided to move on from football,” McCarthy said. “So he made us aware of that approximately four or five days ago. We wish him the best.”