Will Ryan Pickett be the difference along the defensive line in stopping the run and putting pressure on quarterbacks? The Green Bay Packers are hoping that will be the case.
Aside from Pickett, the Packers' defensive line will feature many of the same faces as it did in 2005. That's good from the continuity standpoint, but for a line that ranked 23rd in the National Football League against the run and struggled to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks last year, the jury is out on whether there will be noticeable improvement.
The Packers sank $21 million into defensive end Aaron Kampman and another $15 million in Pickett, who signed as a free agent in March. Those two, along with either Cullen Jenkins or Colin Cole are the Packers' primary run-stoppers. The Packers opted for Pickett, 26, over the 33-year-old Grady Jackson, upgrading the position in youth and talent.
New defensive coordinator Bob Sanders is picking up where Jim Bates left off as far as scheme. While Green Bay's defense shined in most areas, it also had some weak spots. The Packers ranked seventh overall but allowed opponents to rush for an average of 125.6 yards per game. The inability to consistently stop the run and pressure quarterbacks were factors in Green Bay's lowly turnover ratio of minus-24 (31st in the league).
At this point in the off-season, veteran defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila is penciled in as the starter, but don't be surprised if Gbaja-Biamila is used strictly on passing downs beginning in Week 1. Most teams had success running against the 250-pound defensive end last season.
Sanders last week said that he plans to put the "best players in position to make plays" this season. If that's the case, then look for Sanders to use a bigger defensive end on base downs, such as Mike Montgomery, who was used on earlier downs as the season progressed last year.
Pickett and Jenkins present a formidable presence in the middle. Both are quick, strong and should be able to collapse the pocket enough for Green Bay's revamped linebackers corp to make some plays.
Like last year, the Packers probably will rotate as many as eight linemen in and out throughout each game to stay as fresh as possible. Top reserves likely will be Colin Cole, Kenny Peterson and Corey Williams. All three have been with the Packers the last two seasons or longer and have made steady improvement. Green Bay used the first of two sixth-round picks in the recent draft on Texas A&M's Johnny Jolly, who practiced a little with the first-team defense during the recent Organized Team Activities practices.
Defensive end Dave Tollefson, the last of Green Bay's 12 draft picks this year, has to have an outstanding training camp to make the 53-man roster. More likely, Tollefson is a strong candidate for the eight-man practice squad, along with rookie free agent Jason Hunter.
Fourth-year pro Kenderick Allen, who signed as a free agent this off-season, will have to have a strong training camp to make the team. The 6-foot-5, 328-pound Allen will be challenging Williams and Peterson for a roster spot.