Two D-linemen are keepers

Columnist Steve Lawrence explains the differences between defensive linemen Aaron Kampman and Grady Jackson, and why it is important for the Packers to re-sign both players this off-season.

There couldn't be two different players than Aaron Kampman and Grady Jackson.

Kampman is a hard worker who has busted his butt to get where he is today. Jackson is a lazy player who has eaten a lot to get where he is today.

Kampman plays for the love of the game. Jackson plays for more money.

Kampman practices like he plays — 100 percent — despite nagging aches and pains. Jackson spends most practices pedaling a stationary because of nagging aches and pains.

Kampman would never complain about money. Jackson made waves last off-season by hiring agent Drew Rosenhaus and threatening a holdout.

With all of that said, the Packers' top two priorities during free agency must be to re-sign Kampman and Jackson.

Kampman is one of the most underrated players in the league. Maybe it's because he's white, but the defensive end too often is seen as an overachiever, when in fact he's a playmaker.

No, he's not Reggie White, and he's never going to be a Pro Bowler, but there isn't a team in the league that wouldn't want Kampman. He's strong against the run and an effective pass rusher. He led the team with three forced fumbles. His 105 stops was second-most — behind Ezra Johnson's 107 in 1983 — since the team began tallying tackles in 1975. His 6.5 sacks was a career high, and only 1.5 less than so-called elite pass rusher Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila.

Giving Kampman a big-money contract is about as safe as, well, putting money in a safe. He's only 26, so he's entering the prime of his career. Plus, you don't have to worry about Kampman getting fat and lazy, a la Joe Johnson.

Giving Jackson a big-money contract, on the other hand, isn't safe. There's a decent chance he'll get fatter and lazier, a la Johnson and Cletidus Hunt. Jackson played last year to get his money this off-season, so there's no guarantee nose tackle we saw in 2003 and 2005 will return in 2006. And he's 33 and on the downward slide to his career.

With all of that said, big, run-stuffing defensive tackles are as hard to find as big, athletic, quarterback-crushing defensive ends. It's doubtful the Packers can find anyone better than Jackson on the open market or the draft. Plus, with the Packers' defensive scheme, which demands big defensive tackles demanding double teams that allow small, quick linebackers to run free, players like Jackson are a must, or else middle linebacker Nick Barnett will be devoured by offensive linemen outweighing him by 100 pounds.

Clearly, the Packers will try to hedge their bets by keeping Jackson's guaranteed money to a minimum while enticing him with big incentives. If Jackson comes back hungry — no pun intended — and can produce like he did last season, when he posted a career-best 72 tackles and didn't miss any games with injuries, then the Packers will have a chance to build on the improvement made last season.

Neither Kampman nor Jackson are Pro Bowl-type players. But with the minimal amount of above-average talent on the defensive side of the ball, the Packers can't allow two of their best players to pile up tackles for other teams.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com.


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