Defensive line a big concern

None of the younger players have shown consistency

Cletidus Hunt and Grady Jackson found themselves in a familiar position for Wednesday's practice – on the sideline. Both players are still slowed by injuries, like they have been for much of training camp. They will not play in the Packers' third preseason game on Friday night against the New England Patriots.

Even more frustrating than the Packers' new defensive coaches not being able to see much of Hunt and Jackson in action, is that none of the replacements at defensive tackle have been able to impress with a clear opportunity to grab one of the starting defensive tackle spots.

"No one has really stepped out and separated themselves from the pack," said defensive tackles coach Robert Nunn.

With Hunt coming off what can be considered the worst season of his six-year NFL career and Jackson disappointed with his contract, the Packers need someone who can play in the middle on a full-time basis, not only for this season, but also for the foreseeable future. Nearly a month into training camp, however, they have not identified a player on their roster who can do that. With just over two weeks remaining until the regular season begins, it is unlikely that anything will change.

James Lee, a fifth-round draft pick in 2003, has shown energy and effort, but would appear to be better suited as a rotational player; Donnell Washington, an imposing figure at 6-6, 328 pounds, spent last season on injured reserve as a rookie and has not advanced technically enough this camp to earn a starting role; Cullen Jenkins has been effective as a pass rusher in a backup role, but at sub-300 pounds, he could get wore down over the course of a game; and Colin Cole, after just three games in Green Bay last year, appears to be a work in progress.

Packers' coaches have identified skills in each of the above-mentioned players that they can use in situations, which may make for a patchwork middle of the defensive line when the regular season opens on Sept. 11. As Packers' fans should know based on the past two seasons, uncertainty in the middle could lead to another year of opposing teams gashing the Packers on the ground.

Said Nunn on Wednesday of his defensive tackles: "Consistency is the thing with all of them. Every single one of them has to be more consistent. We still have a ways to go, and we have a short time to catch up."

The wild card in the mix is second-year player Corey Williams, but he, too, has been slowed by an injury (strained oblique muscle). He sat out of Wednesday's practice and will not play against the Patriots.

Williams has the best shot to replace Hunt in the starting lineup and has been listed as a candidate on the team's depth chart. He has shown the best combination of holding up against the run and rushing the passer, and if he can emerge, it would be a great boost to the Packers' defense. With less blitzing expected under new defensive coordinator Jim Bates' scheme, Williams could be a breakout player if he can stay healthy.

Outside of Williams, the Packers have to be disappointed with their personnel at tackle to this date. During the off-season when the Packers did not draft any defensive tackles, or take a chance on anyone in free agency. Bates insisted the Packers have the personnel that can do the job. Now, with training camp winding down, coaches are not speaking with the same type of confidence or definitiveness they spoke of months ago. Instead, they will be scrambling for answers to the same questions that the team had a year ago.

Matt Tevsh

Editor's note: Matt Tevsh lives in Green Bay and is entering his 10th season covering the Green Bay Packers for Packer Report and E-mail him at

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