GREEN BAY, Wis. – Sometimes, Will Blackmon's versatility even surprises his teammates.
Exhibit A came early in training camp, when wide receiver Greg Jennings ran his route and plowed straight into a safety. Then Jennings looked up and did a double-take.
"He looked up and said, 'Safety?,'" Blackmon said. "He said, 'I didn't know you were at safety.' I said, 'Yeah, they're not getting rid of me.'"
Blackmon spent the offseason preparing to move from cornerback to safety, although he'll still try to get some snaps at cornerback when the Packers deploy their nickel and dime defenses. And he'll try to play a featured role in the Packers' return game.
If he can stay healthy, that is.
Blackmon is less than 10 months removed from surgery on his left anterior cruciate ligament, the latest and most serious in a string of injuries that have held back the 2006 fourth-round pick out of Boston College.
Blackmon has been a sporadic participant in Packers camp so far. But he was practicing Tuesday after an extended absence, and insists he will be ready for the Sept. 12 opener at Philadelphia.
"It's not even a concern about the opener," Blackmon said. "The main thing is just make sure that I do this, come back strong, do it right. Because I will say this whole injury is a nine to 11 month (recovery). I'm in month nine. So I could sit there, be cool and be prideful, and be like 'I came back in seven months, I came back in eight months,' tell them how strong I am. The bottom line is, six-seven-eight-nine-10-11 months, as long as you're ready by the first game, that's the most important thing."
With depth issues in the defensive backfield and a need for a consistent threat in the return game, Packers coach Mike McCarthy hopes Blackmon can get back on the field consistently — and stay there.
"I had a chance to watch Will out there today," McCarthy said. "He looks really good in the return game. It was good to have him back there. But Will is definitely a factor at the safety position and the corner position. It's good just to get Will healthy and hopefully we can stack some practices with him."
Injuries have limited Blackmon to only 32 regular-season games in four seasons.
Foot problems plagued him in 2006 and 2007 but he had a productive 2008, playing 16 games and scoring twice on punt returns. Then he sustained a season-ending knee injury in Week 4 last season.
"Unfortunately and fortunately, I've gone through something before," Blackmon said. "Obviously this is the major one of them all, but I'm still here, I have confirmation from the doctors that I'm going to be back to elite form. Because that was my main concern when I got hurt, it was like, 'Aw, man, will I be the same, will I be elite?' And then as I started progressing, I started getting more and more confidence."
Blackmon credits a unique nutritional program for his quick recovery this time around.
"I grew up, I had digestive problems, I lost my mother to Crohn's, which is a digestive disease," Blackmon said. "So my main thing is I wanted to make sure that my system was OK."
So Blackmon said he started working with an enzyme chemist.
"I feel like that kind of sped up a lot of stuff," he said. "Because for me having all my situations, like non-contact, like self-inflicted (injuries), then there must be something wrong with me internally, so we were trying to figure that out and we thought that was one of the things that could help."
Blackmon admits he still has something to prove. It's one thing to identify the calls he'll need to make as a safety in the meeting rooms, and another thing to do it quickly and correctly on the field.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers acknowledged that Blackmon is in a tough spot.
"It's been awful hard," Capers said. "I mean, it's hard for a guy that's played the position not getting reps. But a guy that's making a move and not getting reps, it's extremely hard."
But Blackmon is confident he can make his mark this season, both in the defensive backfield and on special teams, where the Packers are trying to create competition in the return game.
"The bottom line is, I'm still here," Blackmon said. "They've still got to compete. I know what I've done. So I'm making sure I get myself back to full strength so that I can continue to do what I was doing."