Nose for the ball

Rod Walker, an amiable and imposing Alabamian, is not a household name in the sprawling reaches of Packerland at the moment.<p>

And, admittedly, such exalted status comes to just a few, so that may not be in the proverbial cards for the soft-spoken Troy State alumnus.

But Roderick Dion Walker – already making a contribution to the Green and Gold's front four – presumably has the physical resources to become a significant factor in the defensive line down the stretch and in the years immediately ahead.

Head Coach Mike Sherman said as much by indirection during a recent discussion of the team's nose tackle situation, triggered by the fact that incumbent Gilbert Brown has been sidelined by injury problems last season.

Acknowledging that Brown's massive presence has been missed up front, Sherman observed, "Rod did a nice job (in the previous game against Tennessee), but, you know, he's a year or two away, maybe, from being the guy."

A compliment. In essence, to the huge (6-3, 325-pound) Milton, Fla., native, just to be mentioned by the head coach as having the potential to be "the guy." Walker came to the Packers on the day of the final cutdown in early September via a trade for a conditional 2002 draft choice with Tennessee.

Walker, meanwhile, has been heartened in working toward that day by recent opportunities to play, noting, "When Gilbert went down a couple weeks ago, that pushed my snaps up a little bit. And, every chance I get, I try to make the best of the situation."

And, upon review?

"I've played fairly well," Walker rejoined. "(But) I may not have made the plays that I think I should be making."

He added that it is an ongoing process, one that requires multiple "reps" to become fully comfortable in his role.

"I'm just trying to be technique-solid," said the third-year pro, acquired from the Tennessee Titans for a conditional seventh-round draft choice shortly before training camp in July. "I think when I can cut loose a little more, I'll be able to make more plays the way I'm supposed to make them.

Along the way, he assured, progress is being made.

"The more I'm seeing," Walker said, "the more I can utilize what I bring to the game ... to the defense ... So that's something more I'm learning – and the more I learn, the more I can start using what I can do best."

The process is more challenging than it might have been because Walker, accustomed to a given style of defense with the Titans, has had to learn an entirely new scheme in coming to Green Bay.

"This is much different," he said. "Tennessee's defense was more of an attack, running, get-upfield type of defense. Here, if you're not in the right place, you can get gashed.

"This is more of a gap-control defense – ten other people counting on you to be at a certain place because they expect you to be there.

"At Tennessee, you maybe could run around blocks here and there. But, here, you have to play your blocks to help your linebackers."

Speaking of the Titans, how had he found going against his former teammates?

"That was strange – to go back and see some of the guys and play against a team that you know so well," Rod admitted, noting, "I was with them for two years. I was real familiar with the team, so that was strange.

"But it was also strange to go on back and to try to prove myself there. You know, they let me go. Maybe you let me go but this is what you all are missing."

And did he feel that he had proved himself to the Titans?

"Not the way that I was supposed to," Walker replied without hesitation. "I should have more tackles."

Those should come in the process of his overall development, in the opinion of Reggie McKenzie, the Packers' director or pro personnel.

"Rod's just got to work on some technique stuff," McKenzie observed. "Basically, he just has to play – he has some skills. He has size ... he's just naturally strong and he has quickness. And he plays hard.

"(But) he does need to get stronger – he needs to develop lower body strength."

Hands on experience

Aside from playing against his former teammates, it appears that highlight of Walker's personal season has been playing against the Chicago Bears twice – each game a battle for first place in the NFC Central Division.

"That was strange – for the defense to have that much faith that they put me in there (for Brown at nose tackle) in a situation like that," Rod noted. "So that was fun – just not letting the team down – just trying to be where I was supposed to be, and hold on and play a fundamentally good game against them."

Had those two imbroglios given him a feeling for the Packers-Bears rivalry?

Flashing a wide smile at the memory, one that seemed to stir his competitive juices, Rod rejoined, "Yeah, I didn't think it was that serious at first -- when I first got here – about the Packer-Bear series. But now I'm like I can't stand 'em. I can't stand the Bears. I'm feeling it now just by being here and playing in these last two games."

On those occasions, and along the way, there has been assistance from Brown, a veteran of many Packers-Bears donnybrooks.

"I think he leads more by example than his just coming and sitting down and talking to me," Rod observed. "So I just watch him, and see how he plays certain blocks. And I'll ask him a question, here and there, about how he does something. And I'll ask Santana (Dotson) questions about how he plays, because he (Gilbert) plays beside Santana, so I get a feel about how he is going to play and how he wants me to play something so that we can work together.

"During the games, Gilbert will come over and say, 'Way to use your hands' or 'high hands.' He'll just keep reminding me because I have a big problem of not using my hands a lot. At Tennessee, we just were going and now, here, I have to use my hands. "So, on the sideline, while I'm coming off the field, he's like, 'Good play, keep using your hands, keep using your hands ... feet and hands ... feet and hands.' So that helps."

Further, Walker credits his position coach, Jethro Franklin, with having a profound effect upon his development.

"He's changed my game," Rod confided. "He's making me use my hands more. But he also wants me to use what I can do the best. He wants me to do it the way it's supposed to be done but, if I can elaborate on it, he will let me do it. So he's helped my game tremendously.

"And he tells me that I'm a pass-rusher, that I can rush the passer. So that helps. I'm more of a bull-rusher. I play the run, but he's given me the encouragement ... the guns ... and the confidence that I can do it."

Fast game

What does he personally consider the best assets he brings to his position?

"Just the speed that I play at," was the prompt reply. "I try to play fast. I try to play hard. I try not to let the team down in any aspect, that if Gilbert does go down, they can just put me in there, plug me in. And it's like, 'Walker can get the job done, he'll get the job done' so they won't be second-guessing themselves about, 'Do I need to put him in or not?'"

"So I think that's what I bring to the game, just a steady person going in, playing as many reps as I need to play. Or, if I need to play a lot of reps, that I can play that.

"Also, just playing the game fast ... I try to play the game as fast as I can."

Statistically, he presumably is looking for his first NFL sack, it was ventured.

"No doubt," Walker quickly affirmed. "I got one in the preseason a year ago against the Rams, and I'm just trying to get one during the regular season. I thought I would be able to get one against Tennessee, knowing what they like to do, but it didn't happen. So I'm just going to keep trying, hopefully, maybe in the next couple of weeks, I'll get chance.

"If it comes in the playoffs, that's fine, as long as it comes this year."

Is it a big thing with him?

"Not necessarily. I feel like I can play the run – I'd rather get a tackle in the backfield than a sack. Because I'm playing just fundamentally great ball if I can get somebody in the backfield."

Beyond that, what might his professional goals be?

"At this point, just to play to the level that I know I can play, play to my level. I don't know what it is yet. I haven't played to it, but just playing at a high level for myself ... from technique to intensity to effort.

"Just playing at a high level. I think if I can do that, then, you know, maybe the sky's the limit..."

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