The Green Bay Packers kick off the regular season on Sunday afternoon at Philadelphia. The Packers are the popular pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl among national writers, but that depends on the defense. Will a unit featuring three starters who barely played in the preseason and a rookie cornerback who figures to play most of the game be ready for the high-powered Eagles offense?
"As a defense, we don't really feel like we're involved with that hype," said starting defensive end Cullen Jenkins. "A lot of hype we've been getting, especially from the preseason and coming off of last year, has been for the offense and how good the offense is. But everybody's always got that question mark about the defense. If we're going to show up, if we're going to be able to stop the run like we did last year, if we'll be able to stop quarterbacks from throwing at us. There's a lot of ifs going around with us and we feel like we've got a lot to prove."
Are those questions fair?
"You can't get caught up in how good people tell you you are or if people expect you to win or do this or that," he said. "I think it proved right at the end of the season last year, it doesn't matter what anybody says or anybody expects you to do. It matters what you go through. We know we've got to go out there and win and go out there and play solid across the board."
Jenkins played in two preseason games, which was one more than starting outside linebackers Clay Matthews (none) and Brad Jones (one) combined. Adding to the instability is that undrafted rookie cornerback Sam Shields will be the third corner. Three-receiver sets are a staple of the Eagles' offense to begin with, and it's unquestionable that coach Andy Reid will play with three receivers for most of the game, even with Kevin Kolb at quarterback. That essentially will force defensive coordinator Dom Capers to swap one of his best defenders, Ryan Pickett, for one of his rawest, Shields.
"Sam Shields has done a very good job," coach Mike McCarthy said. "He has been getting better in every practice and he needs to play. We have played with rookies before and we have played with young players before. We're fortunate enough to have a lot of experience with our veterans. The most important thing I think for us, particularly on defense, it is Year 2 for us in this scheme, so communication is a lot better, confidence is higher. The continuity is probably not what we would like because we did not have everybody throughout the preseason, but we'll be ready to play, young, old, come Sunday in Philadelphia."
Packers injury report
Did not participate: OLB Brady Poppinga (knee). Limited: CB Brandon Underwood (shoulder). Full: tackle-guard Bryan Bulaga (hip), defensive end Cullen Jenkins (calves) and linebackers Desmond Bishop (hamstring), Brad Jones (shoulder) and Clay Matthews (hamstring).
Poppinga had knee inflammation stemming from being spiked while making a diving play in pass coverage during the final week of training camp. He said it wouldn't hamper him for Sunday.
As for Underwood, he's wearing a harness and hasn't been ruled out.
"He feels good," McCarthy said. "He had the opportunity to work with the harness for his shoulder injury and we'll see how he is in the morning. He has really picked it up in the rehab and he feels like he is making a lot of progress."
Eagles injury report
No injuries reported.
Much has been made of the Packers starting rookies Shields and third-round safety Morgan Burnett in the secondary. The Eagles also are starting two rookies on defense: defensive end Brandon Graham (first round) and safety Nate Allen (second round).
"Nate has done a very nice job. He's intelligent. He's got very good athletic ability," Reid told reporters in Philadelphia on Wednesday. "I know there was a question about whether he could hit or not, and I think we've all seen that he's physical and he's got good ball skills. He's continuing to learn every day. So, he's a sharp guy that has a lot of responsibility back there, but he's really taken to that and kind of attacked the issue there. Brandon came in and he's in the starting position at the left defensive end. He's got a great motor, again, very smart. The kid loves to play the game. He just has tremendous energy about him and I think if you've interviewed him, you've felt that, that's the way he plays. And when he gets out there in game situations he carries it over from practice during the game."
— The Packers brought in former Pro Bowl kick returner Clifton Smith for a workout on Tuesday. Smith then jetted to Miami for a workout with the Dolphins, with Smith choosing to sign with Miami on Wednesday.
— After Mike Holmgren departed in 1998, Ron Wolf's coaching search led him to Ray Rhodes rather than an in-house candidate like Andy Reid. Rhodes lasted just one year in Green Bay while Reid has coached the Eagles to five NFC championship games. It's a decision that Wolf later admitted he bungled.
"That's a tough job, man. Mike Holmgren, when they start naming streets after you, those guys are tough to take over for," Reid said in a conference call with Packers beat writers on Wednesday. "I love Green Bay. Those were phenomenal years there. The people in Green Bay and the organization, unbelievable. Just phenomenal, phenomenal people. My experience there was great. I haven't gone back and thought about that but I can tell you that every brat that was offered to me, I ate."
— Three of the NFL's top ballhawks will be on the field on Sunday. Charles Woodson tied for the NFL lead with nine last season and Nick Collins' 13 interceptions over the past two seasons top all NFL safeties. The Eagles' Asante Samuel, who tied Woodson for the interception title last year, has a league-high 29 interceptions since 2006.
— McCarthy had the Packers practicing against an Eagles scout team for one practice during training camp. Reid says he didn't do any scout work against the Packers until this week.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.