Cutdown Saturday: Defense Analysis

We take a position-by-position look at the decisions that shaped the 27-player roster on defense. The outstanding depth at defensive line and at inside linebacker made for some tough decisions.

It might not be a finished product, but here's a look at the defense following Cutdown Saturday. With 27 of the 50 position players, this unit is oozing with talent.

DL (8): DE C.J. Wilson, NT Ryan Pickett, DE B.J. Raji, DE Datone Jones, DE Mike Daniels, DE Johnny Jolly, NT Josh Boyd, DE Mike Neal

Reaction: General manager Ted Thompson says every year that his job is to keep the best 53 players. That's not just a bunch of baloney. What on earth are the Packers going to do with eight defensive linemen? Or, with Neal in a hybrid role, is it seven? Or seven-and-a-half? However you count it, the math is pretty simple. The Packers line up in their nickel and dime defenses about 70 percent of the time. That means for 42 plays out of a typical 60-play game, the Packers only have two defensive linemen on the field. That's a lot of manpower gathered around the Gatorade. The Packers could use that depth to improve another position via a trade. Or, they could rotate their defensive linemen in waves to keep them fresh. However it shakes out, the Packers have plenty of options, regardless of the down-and-distance situation. Jolly is an incredible story. Other than players returning from World War II, when's the last time a player claimed a roster spot after a three-year layoff? Boyd had a decent training camp and might have made the cut for fear he wouldn't get to the practice squad.

OLB (4): Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Andy Mulumba, Nate Palmer

Reaction: It's impossible to quantify this statement, but Kevin Greene might be the best position coach in the NFL. The Packers have received solid contributions from Brad Jones (seventh round), Frank Zombo (undrafted free agent), Erik Walden (street free agent) and Dezman Moses (undrafted free agent). This summer, Moses was beaten out by Palmer (sixth round) and Mulumba (undrafted free agent). Moses battled injuries throughout camp and never got close to impressing like he did last summer. Palmer isn't strong enough to be anything more than a situational pass rusher, though that's not the worst thing. Palmer, who led the nation in quarterback hits at Illinois State, had two sacks and six total pressures in the preseason; only Micah Hyde (two sacks, seven pressures) was more disruptive. Mulumba isn't a polished pass rusher but he's rugged against the run.

ILB (5): Brad Jones, A.J. Hawk, Jamari Lattimore, Robert Francois, Sam Barrington

Reaction: There was never a doubt about Jones, Hawk, Lattimore and Francois. Hawk is so maligned that he's now one of the more underrated defenders in the league, and Jones was a revelation upon moving to the inside. Lattimore and Francois are special-teams demons. If the roster were 54 players, the Packers might have kept Barrington and Terrell Manning. Position coach Winston Moss spoke highly of both players last week, and both were with two first-team units on special teams. In the end, maybe it came down to Barrington making just a bit more impact. Barrington had 12 tackles, one sack, two tackles for losses and a pass defensed. Manning had 10 tackles, no sacks or tackles for losses, and one pass defensed.

CB (6): Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Casey Hayward, Davon House, Micah Hyde, Jarrett Bush

Reaction: This unfolded exactly as expected. How many teams wish they had a cornerback as good as Hyde slotted as fifth on the depth chart? Hyde, a fifth-round pick with a tremendous feel for the game, led the team with 17 tackles, tied for the team lead with two sacks and three tackles for losses, and led the way with three passes defensed. He'll probably return punts, too. At the top of the depth chart, it will be interesting to see who lines up against the 49ers due to the preseason injuries to Williams and Hayward. Has Williams gotten enough snaps to supplant House, and has Hayward done enough to replace Hyde?

S (4): Morgan Burnett, M.D. Jennings, Jerron McMillian, Chris Banjo

Reaction: No surprises here, either. Burnett, Jennings and McMillian were locks, and Banjo simply wouldn't be denied. What's going on in Jacksonville? Banjo got cut by the Jaguars early in camp, and apparently Jarrett Boykin and DuJuan Harris weren't good enough for them, either. In the preseason, Banjo had 11 tackles, a sack, two tackles for losses and two quarterback hits, plus added two tackles on special teams. Strong and intelligent, he seems a natural fit on special teams.


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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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