Unit by unit: Defensive line

Packers in need of a run-stopping defensive end

Starters - DLE Aaron Kampman, DT Cullen Jenkins, NT Grady Jackson, DRE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila.
Backups - DT/NT Colin Cole, DT Corey Williams, DE/DT Kenny Peterson, DE Michael Montgomery, DT Donnell Washington

The one soft spot of an otherwise rigid Green Bay defense in 2005 was the defensive line. It will get plenty of attention this off-season because last year opponents often exploited the heart of the Packers' defense.

Green Bay, seventh overall in total yards allowed, was 23rd in the National Football League in rushing yards allowed per game (125.6). The Packers had some impressive goal line stands, but often gave up big chunks of yardage on the ground, especially later in the season. Tampa Bay rookie Cadillac Williams was the only back to churn out 100-plus yards in the first nine games. From there, though, Packers opponents often were successful running at Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, or rookie Mike Montgomery.

Green Bay's biggest priority as free agency nears is locking up defensive end Aaron Kampman, who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent. Contract talks late in the season didn't pan out, so Kampman could wind up on the open market as a hot commodity after a stellar year (career-highs of 105 tackles and 6.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 pass defensed). Kampman was on the field more than 90 percent of the time.

The Packers also will probably try to re-sign the 370-pound Grady Jackson, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. Jackson played in every game of the season for the first time since he was with Oakland in 2001. He was an occasional enforcer in the middle, particularly down near the goal line. The 33-year-old expects to be paid on par with the top nose tackles in the league, but may have to settle on re-signing with Green Bay for a modest deal beefed up with incentives.

Gbaja-Biamila was held to a team-high eight sacks and would be best served if he's confined to passing downs. It's something the previous coaching regime explored toward the end of the season, with Montgomery getting the call on early downs and displaying a knack for getting after the football.

Cullen Jenkins was overtaken by the stout Colin Cole for four starts late in the season at the three-technique tackle spot, but Jenkins provides strength and quickness from the inside as a pass rusher.

Corey Williams had been projected as a starter in the preseason but sustained a calf injury that sidelined him for a four-game stretch in the second half of the season.

Kenny Peterson, who will be a restricted free agent, showed some flashes in a versatile backup role, and likely will be retained by the Packers.

Donnell Washington, a third-round draft pick whose rookie season in 2004 was derailed by a foot injury, has yet to play a snap in a regular-season game after being activated only once last season.

Look for the Packers to draft a defensive end or tackle high in the draft, if not with the fifth overall pick. Scout.com predicts that Green Bay will scoop up North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams in the first round on April 29.

Todd Korth

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

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