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Big chance for Lattimore to grab starting job

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The way Mike McCarthy talked on Friday, it was almost as if the Green Bay Packers coach wants Jamari Lattimore to never relinquish the starting spot he will occupy Sunday against the New York Jets in relief of the injured Brad Jones.

It would not be the first time a Packers linebacker won a job that way.

Desmond Bishop was an injury replacement for Nick Barnett early in the 2010 season and did not give up the job until he was injured in the 2012 preseason. And midway through the 2012 season, Jones took over that spot after an injury to D.J. Smith.

Could it be Lattimore's turn?

Jones has a quadriceps injury that may or may not have contributed to his poor play in the season-opening loss to the Seattle Seahawks and has been ruled out for Sunday's home opener.

"I would think anytime you get a chance to go and perform, if you perform at a high level, you don't want to give that spot back," McCarthy said Friday. "I think that's the part of injury. You look at the history of the National Football League, some of the greatest careers were started because of an injury in front of that particular player. This is a big opportunity."

But it's not Lattimore's first shot.

He started four games last season -- three in October plus the regular-season finale -- while Jones had hamstring and ankle injuries. Lattimore played well early in the season, including a career-high 14 tackles (with a sack) against the Browns on Oct. 20, but was not as effective in Week 17 against the Bears.

What no one outside the Packers knew until Friday was that Lattimore was dealing with an illness the entire time. Although the fourth-year pro did not disclose all the details, he said Friday that it was stomach-related and also had to do with allergies. He said he was on medication all of last season.

"I don't like to talk because it was bad for me," said Lattimore, who has no lingering problems from the illness. "So I don't really like to bring it back up."

The illness, which he said he still doesn't know exactly what it was, never kept him out of a game. The only game he missed was because of a quad injury. Other than the four starts, most of his action came on special teams, where he was voted as a team captain for the playoffs.

"I had no choice," he said. “It's my job. I've got to go and play. But I didn't feel good. But you just have to suck it up."

In the offseason, he was tendered as a restricted free agent at the lowest rate, $1.431 million, with no promises that another shot at the starting job would come with it. But here he is, a week into the regular season with that shot again, even if he's not quite looking at it that way.

"It's not a break," said Lattimore, who came into the league in 2011 as an undrafted free agent. "Every play is important to me because when I'm on the field I get to make a play. For me, yes, it's an opportunity, but it's just doing your job. What they brought you in here for, for you to do your job, for you to play that position. It's all up to the player to be accountable. It's not necessarily a big stage or first time. It's doing your job."