Mid-season grades: defense

While the Packers offense graded out very well in the first half of the season, the defense was certainly less than stellar.<p>

During the team's four-game losing streak, it was, at times, horrendous. Thankfully, the defense's performance improved in the past three games. The Packers will need a continued defensive renaissance to have a chance to win the NFC North this season. Here are the defense's first half grades, which are a combination of expectation and performance.

DE Aaron Kampman—Kampman is not flashy and is not known for making a lot of big plays. Nobody questions his effort as Kampman goes 100% all the time and uses excellent technique. He has 2 1/2 sacks and leads all Packers defensive linemen in tackles with 33. He's an above average starter but lacks the bulk to be a standout tackle and the speed to be a standout end. Grade: B

NT Grady Jackson—The numbers don't tell the full story for Grady Jackson. He has no sacks and is credited with only five tackles thus far this year. The bottom line for Green Bay is that without Jackson in the lineup, opponents have run the ball almost at will against the Packers defense. Jackson stuffs up the middle against the run and is capable of penetrating the opposition backfield to either stop a ball carrier behind the line of scrimmage or pressure the quarterback. Green Bay needs him healthy down the stretch and hopes that he plays his way into top condition. Grade: Incomplete

DT Cletidus Hunt—Hunt has never lived up to the big contract the Packers signed him to prior to the 2003 season. Scouts agree he has a lot of talent but his play on the field has never been consistent enough to match it. At times, Hunt has been invisible. When Jackson was hurt, he was moved to nose tackle for parts of two games and the move proved disastrous. When he is on, Hunt is quick and penetrates well. He just hasn't produced consistently enough this season. His behavior off the field in recent months has been questionable as well. Grade: C

DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila—KGB just hasn't provided the pass rush the Packers need from him. He has 2 1/2 sacks which puts him on pace for half of the 10 he had last year. Opposing quarterbacks just haven't seen enough of Gbaja-Biamila this season. The effort appears to be there both against the run and the pass but not the results. Packers coaches have said they plan to rest KGB more often so he doesn't wear down. The bottom line is this: Gbaja-Biamila is best used as a situational pass rusher and wears down when asked to play too many plays. The problem is, the Packers don't have a better alternative on their roster right now. Grade: C

DE R-Kal Truluck—Truluck was acquired just prior to the Pack's season opener to pressure the quarterback. Essentially, he is in the role Gbaja-Biamila is best suited for. Truluck has had some moments and in a few games in which he did provide consistent pressure. At other times, it's been hard to remember that he was even active for some games. He has registered half a sack and a few pressures but needs to pick up his game in the second half. Grade: C+

DT Cullen Jenkins—Jenkins stepped into a thankless situation and did the best he could. He has made some plays for the Pack with 10 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks. When asked to start, Jenkins can be a liability but when used in spurts, he has shown the ability to get penetration and make plays. Jenkins gives solid efforts and has exceeded expectations. Grade: B-

DT James Lee—Lee finally got his big chance early in the year when Grady Jackson went down. He was playing fairly well for about two games before getting injured himself and missing the next five games. Lee is a better run stopper than pass rusher and has good bulk. He's played less than three full games after missing his entire rookie year in 2003 so he has yet to establish himself. The potential is there. Grade: Incomplete

DE Corey Williams—Williams competes whenever he is given the chance and has shown some promise. The rookie sixth round pick has played in six games this year and has been credited with 10 tackles and a forced fumble. He has good quickness and potential but he is still learning. Anything he contributes this year has to be considered a bonus. Grade: B-

OLB Na'il Diggs—Diggs has good speed and the new defensive system attempted to put it to use. He is second on the Packers in tackles with 54 and has added a sack. Diggs excels in pass coverage and when the ball is run away from him so he can use his speed to track down the play. The Packers need to make better use of Diggs' talents in the second half and should be able to if the defensive line stays healthy. Grade: B

MLB Nick Barnett—Barnett has improved on his impressive rookie season and at times looks like he is ready to become one of the better middle linebackers in football. The potential is certainly there. Barnett is intense and is a student of the game. He lacks size but uses his speed and smarts to put himself in position to make plays. Barnett has also flashed leadership qualities that will only continue to blossom as he gains experience. He leads the Packers with 60 tackles and also has two sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery. Grade: B+

OLB Hannibal Navies—Navies has been felled by injuries this season. He missed two games and was limited in parts of others but when he plays, he still plays at a consistent level. He has 21 tackles and half a sack. Navies doesn't make a lot of big plays. He's a little on the small side but has good speed which has been limited by his injuries this year. He needs to be more of a factor in the second half. Grade: C+

LB Paris Lenon—Lenon excels on special teams and serves as a valuable backup at both outside and middle linebacker. There is a noticeable drop in performance when Lenon has to play for an extended period of time. Lenon works hard and tackles well but does not have great speed which hurts him in this defense. Grade: C+

LB Torrance MarshallMarshall is a key player on special teams but has yet to pick up the defense well enough that the coaching staff feels they can rely on him for long periods of time. The size, speed and strength are all there. The Packers have been waiting for "the light to go on" for four seasons now. They shouldn't be holding their breaths. Marshall is a valuable special teams player but nothing more. Grade: C+

CB Al Harris—With Mike McKenzie shipped off to New Orleans, Harris is the best corner the Packers have. He does not have great speed but is strong and has good size. He battles receivers as they head down field and anticipates well most of the time. When he doesn't, he can get burned. Harris has battled knee injuries as of late but has fought on and stayed in the lineup. He is the man the Pack can least afford to lose in the secondary. Grade: B

SS Mark Roman—Roman has proved to be just what the Packers thought he was when they signed him as a free agent this summer: smart, steady but not spectacular. Roman is second among Packer DB's with 31 tackles and has added 2 _ sacks. His blitzing skills have exceeded expectations. Many of his tackles tend to come downfield, however. He has decent speed and is good in man coverage. Grade: B

FS Darren Sharper—Injuries have slowed Sharper and while he is still a big time player, he has not been playing at the Pro Bowl level he was two years ago. It is surprising that Sharper doesn't have any sacks considering the Packers blitz so often and he is so strong in the box. He has three interceptions to lead the Packers and one of them was returned for a touchdown. Sharper is also a leader in the locker room. The Pack needs him healthy in the second half. Sharper has been good but not spectacular. Grade: B

CB Michael Hawthorne—You have to say this about Hawthorne, he had a good game against Carolina in the season opener and he never stops trying. That being said, the sight of Hawthorne chasing receivers after they caught the ball for big gains was seen way too often this year until Mike Sherman finally put Hawthorne in the nickel and dime packages rather than making him a starter. He simply lacks the speed necessary to cover top rate receivers in the National Football League. Grade: C-

CB Ahmad Carroll—Carroll just wasn't ready to be a starter early in the season and Coach Sherman probably did the right thing by not rushing him into the starting lineup as ugly as things got out there at times. With McKenzie's holdout and subsequent trade, the Packers needed Carroll or Joey Thomas to step up and be ready to play. They weren't. Carroll has good cover skills but is still learning and has been schooled by some receivers he's faced. The performances have improved over time and they have to continue to do so or else the Pack's playoff chances will be seriously imperiled. Grade: C

S Bhawoh Jue—Jue filled in nicely for Darren Sharper when the Packers best DB was injured and has been a pleasant surprise in limited action this year. Jue had 15 tackles and one interception against Dallas and Washington when he saw significant action and has shown improvement. Grade: B

CB Joey Thomas—Thomas just hasn't been ready to make a major impact this year on defense. That may change as the season moves along. Grade: Incomplete.

K Ryan Longwell—Longwell continues to be a top-flight kicker despite playing on grass and in a cold weather city. Thus far, he is 10 of 12 on field goals with one of misses coming from beyond 50 yards. Longwell's kickoffs have been a little better this year but he still needs to work on getting better distance and consistency on them. He handles bad weather very well which is vital in Green Bay in November and December. Grade: A-

P Bryan Barker—The wily veteran came to the rescue when B.J. Sander wasn't ready for prime time. Barker is steady and has a knack for placing punts inside the 20 with eight already this year. His hang time has been good but his leg strength at this point in his career is just average. How he handles the frozen conditions at Lambeau will be interesting to watch. Barker came into a difficult situation and has gotten the job done. Grade: B

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