CAMP BODIES PART 2 DEFENSIVE LINE by Jerry Gilbert 5/30/2007
In the final third of 2006, the defensive line of the Green Bay Packers began to perform at a high level, and was, as a group, one of the most effective and consistent units on the team. Aaron Kampman played at a pro bowl level all season, and except for some minor injuries, nose tackle Ryan Pickett was a consistent force in the middle. One reason for success at the end was the emergence of Cullen Jenkins as a force against both the run and the pass. Corey Williams also showed some consistency by season end as an inside pass rusher and run stopper. These four starters all return, along with every reserve who was on the regular roster at the conclusion of the season. To this crowded and reasonably talented field, the Packers added first round draft choice Justin Harrell from Tennessee.
Barring a trade or serious injury, the reserve defensive end candidates who return are Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and Jason Hunter as pass rushers and Mike Montgomery as a run stopper. Colin Cole and Johnny Jolly are the back up tackles. Justin Harrell is virtually assured a roster spot because he is a first round draft choice. There appears to be very little room for an unknown to crack the final roster of 53. Nevertheless, there are candidates, and we will proceed to introduce each player.
We have already met junior college all-star DeVon Hicks a 6-1 265 candidate to be a rush defensive end. Hicks, who has played no major college football, is, at best, a candidate for the practice squad. Another speedy defensive end is Larry Birdine 6-4 261 from Oklahoma. As a red shirt freshman in 2004, Birdine came off the bench to contribute 4 sacks. Against UCLA, he had 5 tackles including 3 for losses. As a reserve in 2004, Birdine registered 7.5 sacks and had a couple of big games. Unfortunately, a bicep injury ended his junior season. Returning from injury in 2006, Birdine was a full time starter, but his sack total dropped to 3.5. That is probably the main reason he was not drafted. Birdine has a good pedigree as an athlete. New Orleans offensive tackle Jammal Brown is his cousin and linebacker Jason Gilden is his half brother. In an interview with the Sooner Spectator, Birdine described himself as a "high energy guy. I'm always trying to do something that everyone else can feed off of". He also said he is quiet "only when I am sleeping". Running a 4.88 forty at his pro day helped him land a contract. At least one Green Bay writer has already mentioned Birdine as a prospect.
Hicks and Birdine are competing with Jason Hunter 6-4 250 for one or no spots on the roster. KGB will be the rush end, and a second such player would have to be a force on special teams to stay with Green Bay. Jason Hunter proved to be a good special teamer last season. The only real chance for the camp bodies is if either can prove himself to be adequate as a three down defensive end as well as performing on special teams.
Surprisingly there is no clear candidate to compete with Michael Montgomery to back up Aaron Kampman. After showing some promise as a rookie, Montgomery was a disappointment last season. One tackle prospect who could potentially slide over is Daniel Muir 6-2 298 Kent State. More likely to compete at his college position of tackle, Muir ran a 4.8 forty at his pro day which suggests enough speed to move outside. His 37 reps lifting the 225# shows some strength as well. In a three-year career as a starter, Muir played in 46 games and registered 35 tackles for loss and 15 sacks among his 198 tackles. Last season he basically ended the Akron game with a sack for a safety. Against Eastern Michigan he snagged an interception and ran 5 yards for a touchdown. With all the competition on hand at defensive tackle, Muir will have to perform at a high level even to make the practice squad.
Another defensive tackle candidate played end in college, but Devarick Scandrett 6-4 322 Middle Tennessee State has bulked himself up way beyond the 276 he weighed as a college end. If he has retained any quickness, Scandrett could compete with Colin Cole and Johnny Jolly to be the fourth tackle along with Pickett, Williams and Harrell. More likely he is competing for one spot on the practice squad. A four-year contributor in college, Scandrett earned several Scholar-Athlete awards. Being smart helps a professional player. On the negative side, Scandrett only averaged about 3 sacks per season as a defensive end and made about 100 tackles for his career. Scandrett is a long shot to stay with the team.
The players to watch in camp are Mike Montgomery, Jason Hunter and Johnny Jolly. If these players earn a roster spot, the camp bodies will not rise above that designation. Nevertheless, these new players will be fun to watch.