DEFENSIVE LINE FULL OF QUESTIONS
By Jerry Gilbert
There are many reasons to be pessimistic about prospects for the Green Bay Packer Defensive Line in 2005. To begin, the line was not very effective much of last year. Quarterbacks had plenty of time to find receivers, and runners broke into the backfield with regularity. It gets worse. Both starting tackles from last season are currently holding out for one reason or another. Because Cletidus Hunt missed the mini-camps, and Grady Jackson is holding out for an unknown period of time, the Packers cannot monitor their weight and conditioning, and there is no reason to be certain either or both will be in Green Bay at the start of training camp.
Attempting to replace Hunt are players with very little NFL experience. Cullen Jenkins and Corey Williams each showed flashes last season, but neither is yet an every down threat to stymie the plans of the opposing offense. That being said, one of them is likely to be the starter because Hunt has been almost a complete bust since he signed a large contract a few years back. Former Third round draft choice Kenny Peterson is behind Jenkins and Williams on the depth chart at tackle-if the under-performing Peterson makes the team, it will likely be as a defensive end. The "official" depth chart also lists Jenkins at defensive end, but without Hunt in the picture, Jenkins may be the next best choice at tackle.
At Grady Jackson's nose tackle position, the depth is even more problematic. Neither James Lee nor Donnell Washington have completed anything close to a full season as a pro. Each has size and quickness, but that only adds up to unfulfilled potential at this point. Assuming he is in shape to play, the Packers need Grady Jackson .
Two points should be made about Jackson's holdout. First, he may be returning to his not so impressive form of years past. During his stint in New Orleans, Jackson was a complete disappointment. The website Super Saints Weekly for May 17, 2003, had this to say:
With Grady Jackson not participating in the off-season workouts and appearing not to have any drive to control his weight, he has put himself out of favor with numerous people. If the Saints are able to add a capable defensive tackle through free agency, then Jackson could find himself out of work. The breakdown on Jackson is that he has the talent to dominate his position and be a star in the league, but doesn't have the drive to fulfill his potential. In his brief time in the Crescent City, Jackson has shown flashes of this talent, but has been unable to sustain that level of play. Currently Jackson is thought to be around 370, being this large makes it difficult for the young man to keep his stamina during a game and also causes a greater risk of injury to himself. The Saints would like to see him down around 310 which would give him more stamina during games and provide him with more mobility. don't count on Jackson truly going all out to get in shape because he has yet to prove in the past that he has the desire to do so.
Soon after that article was written, Jackson signed with the Packers and performed well for them except when he was injured. Nevertheless, he is, once again, doing what could cause him to "fall out of favor" with his team's management. One has to worry that part of the reason for his holdout may relate to rather "weighty" issues that have little to do with salary. Face facts; Jackson is a talented player who has never put together three consecutive seasons of playing at a high level.
The other issue that jumps out concerning Jackson is that the holdout makes little sense. Arguably, the collective bargaining agreement prevents the Packers from meeting his terms. Moreover, Jackson is 32; hardly the stage in the career of a 300 pounder that a year's hold out will not adversely affect his future. The holdout appears to be doomed. Therefore, fans must hope that when he arrives, he will be ready to contribute.
Turning to defensive end, we
see the same lack of success last season and little evidence that the talent level has been improved. The returning starters are Aaron Kampman, who, in his career to date, has seldom gotten close enough to a to a quarterback to create any issues, and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, who is among the league lead in sacks, but his sacks come in bunches against bad teams.
The one cause for optimism is that new defensive coordinator Jim Bates has a proven history of generating a pass rush through schemes and coaching. The cause for concern, is that the defensive ends last season were not consistent against either the run or the pass. Spreading them out further, as Bates intends, may give them a better angle to charge into the backfield, but it also may tend to open holes between guard and tackle.
If the defensive line is to be at least an average defensive line in 2005-06, some of the following must occur.
1. One of the young defensive linemen--Donnell Washington, Corey Williams, James Lee, Cullen Jenkins, Kenny Peterson, or (even longer shots) rookie Mike Montgomery or NFL Europe stand-out Seante Williamsmust establish himself as a dependable every down performer, and another of them must prove himself to be at least a minimally competent starter. The team can only expect so much from KGB Aaron Kampman and Grady Jacksontwo of the unproven guys must establish themselves. One of those performers will need to play Cletidus Hunt's tackle position.
2. Either Grady Jackson plays almost a full season or Washington or Lee (or Colin Cole) must be one of the successful players discussed in number 1.
3. Aaron Kampman must improve as a pass rusher; Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila must learn how to beat top-level offensive tackles from time to time. It is not enough to do what has been so much discussed-- find a third down pass rusher--the starters must apply pressure on first and second down, or there will be many more Sundays when Peyton Manning or even Joey Harrington simply step back and play catch with their receivers.
4. The defensive linemen must bat passes and cause fumbles in nearly every game.
The preseason should be a very interesting time to watch the defensive line. The media will talk loud and long about Hunt and Jackson. Hopefully, the Internet will provide day-by-day information as to how the young players are performing. Here at ThaPack.com, we will do our best to contribute to that effort. Watch for our reports from the early days of training camp.