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Rookie Burnett could be Packers' Plan B at safety

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Green Bay Packers rookie safety Morgan Burnett didn't look lost running plays with the No. 1 defense during the team's optional workouts Wednesday.

And if incumbent starter Atari Bigby sits out next week's mandatory minicamp because of a contract impasse, Burnett will get an even bigger chance to impress everyone.

Bigby is a restricted free agent, and there are no indications that he has signed his tender offer from the team. Bigby wasn't present Wednesday, and Packers coach Mike McCarthy says there is "nothing new to report" on the status of his contract.

Should Bigby stay away next week, it will be another opportunity for Burnett, a third-round pick out of Georgia Tech who already has McCarthy's attention.

"I see Burnett as a very natural, instinctive football player," McCarthy said. "Things come very easy for him. He's a good communicator. He's a very fluid player in space. His athletic ability and the instincts, he picks up coaching very well."

Burnett's progress is a bright spot amid confusion and speculation about the Packers' three restricted free agents.

Speaking after Wednesday's practice, McCarthy confirmed that defensive lineman Johnny Jolly has signed his tender offer from the team. A person with direct knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press that cornerback Tramon Williams verbally agreed to his tender offer this week. The person, who requested anonymity because the deal has not been announced, said the paperwork has yet to be completed.

That leaves Bigby, a situation with no resolution in sight.

Packers safety Nick Collins, who spent last year angling for a contract extension before receiving a three-year, $23.4 million deal in the offseason, said Bigby is in a difficult spot.

"It's a tough situation to be in when you think you're one of those guys that have (outplayed) your contract and you feel like you deserve a new one," Collins said. "It's just a decision you have to come to grips with: Do I really want to play football or do I really want to worry about, I need this for my family or whatever. All us men in here, we want what's right for our family, and at the end of the day, we're all here to play football."

While Jolly has signed, his availability remains in doubt.

He is facing drug charges in Houston after his July 2008 arrest outside a club allegedly for illegally possessing at least 200 grams of codeine. If convicted, Jolly faces up to 20 years in prison.

McCarthy said Jolly will be excused for next week's minicamp.

"There's a lot going on, and he needs to focus and make sure he has everything in line," McCarthy said. "These decisions that are going to be made legally will affect every aspect of his life, most importantly his personal life and then his professional life."

Fellow defensive lineman Ryan Pickett is close to Jolly, and expects him to learn from the experience.

"If this stuff doesn't cause you to change, what will?" Pickett said. "All this stuff he's going through — you're missing practice, you can't be around your teammates, that'll make you feel isolated from the team. So if this stuff doesn't change, then that's an issue. I'm expecting him to be changed by this experience, definitely."

And while the future of Jolly, Bigby and Williams remains unclear, McCarthy insists he is happy with the team's depth — especially at safety, where the coach says he sees more depth than he has had at any point since taking over in 2006.

Backup safety and special teams ace Derrick Martin raved about Burnett.

"He's nice, man," Martin said. "He's been flying around and makes a lot of plays — a ball hawk."

Burnett says his transition to the NFL is a lot to take in, but feels he has made significant progress.

"I'm starting to get a little comfortable back there," Burnett said. "I'm starting to pick up the defense a little more, but I'm still learning and trying my best to learn as quickly as I can."

And while Burnett is just trying to master the playbook at this point, he admits he's already daydreaming about playing in his first game.

"Just being in the NFL, period, has been a dream," Burnett said. "So just at times, you just sit back and just imagine or see yourself making plays out there. But the main focus is starting at square one, learning your position. But at times at night, I might daydream about running out on the tunnel with a Green Bay Packer jersey on."