Keep an eye on this big guy

USA Today recently published a list of the 25 best defensive ends and defensive tackles in the National Football League, according to a complex, week-to-week formula produced by The Sports Xchange. Of the 50 defensive linemen between both lists of players, the Green Bay Packers are represented by one player – Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila – and he is in the bottom fifth among defensive ends.

The Packers did not have any representation among the top 25 defensive tackles. Surprised? Hardly.

Unless you've been tied up in a cave somewhere across the world in the past two years, it is obvious that the Packers need help along the defensive line. They need a play-maker in the middle, a disruptive force, a revelation that will allow their ends and linebackers to get to the quarterback and stop the run.

In the past couple of seasons, the Packers have struggled sacking quarterbacks and have often whiffed while attempting to tackle running backs at the line of scrimmage. Part of the reason is the lack of production from the defensive tackle, or "three-techique" position.

The Packers thought Cletidus Hunt was the play-maker they were looking for when they signed him to a six-year, $25.5 million extension in 2003, but he has been a bust. Hunt is too inconsistent, and judging by his June minicamp absences the last two seasons, he has pretty much taken the $6 million bonus money he received as part of his contract and is running away from the Packers. Free agent Cullen Jenkins gave Hunt a push last year, and, in fact, started ahead of him in the season finale. Jenkins has showed potential, but that's about it. Now new coordinator Jim Bates wants him at defensive end more often than defensive tackle.

Corey Williams has the inside track entering training camp as the starter at the three-technique position. Williams, a second-year pro, has the quickness and same size as Hunt to be a disruptive force, but he has to prove it in camp. He has the ability and some experience at tackle to produce from the tackle position, and that's why he has the inside track.

If there is a sleeper among the defensive tackles to start at the three-technique position, it is second-year pro Donnell Washington, who is a little bigger and stronger than the 6-foot-4, 313-pound Williams. If you are not familiar with Washington, you are not alone among Packers fans. Washington spent all of his rookie season on injured reserve after he sustained a foot injury early in training camp last year. Washington was the second of Green Bay's three third-round selections in the 2004 NFL draft. He got off to a promising start in the minicamps and training camp, then suffered a foot/arch injury in an Aug. 6 training camp practice.

At 6-foot-6, 328 pounds, Washington has the same size as some of the top defensive tackles in the league – Minnesota's Kevin Williams, New England's Richard Seymour and Jacksonville's Marcus Stroud. Whether or not he has the same play-making abilities as them remains to be seen, but his size, long arms (36-inch span) and strength give him a good head start.

Is Washington durable? Is he quick enough? The jury is still out, but he has the right attitude. He remained in Green Bay this off-season, participating in the team's workout program and taking advantage of the "opportunity" practices and the team's two minicamps. Plus, Washington's back is against the wall in Green Bay. He simply has to make an impression upon the coaches in camp, or get cut. The Packers cannot afford to keep Washington around based on his potential if he doesn't show anything in camp. So, look for the big guy from Clemson to open some eyes.

In fact, Washington may be one of the main reasons why the Packers chose not to select a defensive lineman in the April NFL draft. The Packers were high on Washington last year, trading up in the draft to get him, so they will give the big man every opportunity to prove he can help the Packers win this season.

If all goes well, the Packers may have the play-maker that they desperately need at defensive tackle.


Todd Korth

Note: Todd Korth is managing editor of Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at packrepted@aol.com.


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