Blue-collar man

Harrell will help solidify Green Bay's inconsistent run defense

Like an NHL team developing their own prospects in a farm system, the Green Bay Packers are building a program from within. But instead of being shipped to the AHL, Green Bay's rookies will be given an opportunity to start the moment training camp opens on July 28. A lack of free agent acquisitions has opened the door wide open for Green Bay's 11 draftees.

For the Packers, team chemistry and loyalty are being emphasized over free agent rentals and overspending. In an era where the salary cap rises like gas prices, allowing NFL teams to lock up their core long-term, Ted Thompson is adapting. In three seasons, the Green Bay general manager has turned 21 picks into 34. That's 34 hungry, unproven players fighting for a job and spreading competitiveness through the entire organization. It's easy to get caught up in the Randy Moss Sweepstakes and extravagant eBay-like free agent bidding wars, but you can't argue with this method for the overall health of the organization.

Every job is earned. Premature starting spots are penciled in, not inked. Let the best man win.

As Mike McCarthy carries this philosophy into minicamp, here is some sheer speculation on three of the 2007 draft picks that should assimilate into Green Bay's "play from day one" mantra as A.J. Hawk, Greg Jennings, Daryn Colledge, and Jason Spitz did last season. In a three-part series, today's rookie will forever be linked to Thompson and his evaluation of talent.

Justin Harrell, DT, Tennessee
Banner Year: (2005) 39 TKL, 7.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 5 BB
Packer Comparison: Santana Dotson

How does he fit in? Wasn't strong safety the only area of dire need defensively? The defensive line rotation seemed established, even at the left hip of Ryan Pickett. Corey Williams flashed brilliance in Green Bay's collapse at Buffalo, sacking J.P. Losman three times. Colin Cole is no slouch, registering 77 tackles over the last two seasons and dark horse 2006 sixth round pick Johnny Jolly earned valuable playing time in the defense's December mini-renaissance.

In a Chris Berman remix, "That's why they have the draft."

Green Bay's four-game winning streak to end the year couldn't erase the memory of Shaun Alexander's 201-yard field day on the frozen tundra of Seattle, and the fact that a third of Cedric Houston's entire 2006 production came against the Packers in the Jets' 38-10 laugher ... and Frank Gore's infamous 72-yard scamper. You get the idea.

Saturday Thompson confirmed that the trio of Williams, Cole, and Jolly lacks the deadly combination of size, speed, athleticism, and strength needed to consistently penetrate backfields. At a nimble 6-foot-4, 300 pounds, Justin Harrell may have this complete package.

Harrell has been unfairly stereotyped as the centerpiece of Green Bay's off-season woes. By all indications, he is a high motor player and a high character individual - two antibiotics that should fend off Jamal Reynolds-itis. With an arm heavily taped and virtually immobilized against Florida, Harrell played on pure guts, making three tackles for no gain.

"A couple of times, he came off [the field] with tears in his eyes because of the pain," said the Vols defensive line coach Dan Brooks. "He'd sit out a couple of plays, and then he'd be back out there. He played almost the whole game against a national championship team. I think he just wasn't ready for his college career to be abruptly over. I think it says a lot about him."

This blue collar attitude fits well with Aaron Kampman, Cullen Jenkins, and Ryan Pickett. Thompson has invested $51 million in these three in hope to revive a White-Dotson-Brown-S.Jones type of unit. Harrell will tip this amount over $60 million, but it will be worth it. All four should hit their prime simultaneously.

With defenses focused on containing Kampman (89 tackles, 15.5 sacks in 2006), Pickett (64 tackles), and Jenkins (32 tackles, 6.5 sacks) Harrell will see plenty of single-team blocks, allowing his athleticism to flourish.

Beyond Xs and Os, Harrell's selection fosters Mike McCarthy's chief philosophy of constant competition for playing time. Incumbents Corey Williams, Colin Cole and Johnny Jolly won't roll out the welcome mat for Harrell. Expect a heated battle in training camp that brings out the best in all players.

Harrell may be the hungriest of Thompson's 34 career draft picks. After being limited to only three games in his senior swan song at Tennessee and being ushered into the NFL to a unison of boos, Harrell will play with a quiet chip on his shoulder (hopefully not in his torn bicep).

"I'm just proud of the opportunity," he said. "Hopefully, when I get down there and start showing what I can do, they'll start accepting me. We'll turn those boos into cheers."

Full of pass rushing upside, Harrell could provide the perfect complement to Pickett's run-stuffing. Subsequently, A.J. Hawk, Nick Barnett, and Brady Poppinga will roam with more freedom and less blockers driving them downfield. Not a bad concept.

Following the release of one bittersweet trade offer from Cleveland, the pressure is on Harrell to create such an immediate domino effect. According to's Peter King, Green Bay declined a swap of picks in the second, third, and fourth round, AND the Browns' first round pick next year, which will probably be very high.

But if Green Bay turns its 13th ranked rushing defense into a top five unit and learns how to win ugly, Harrell's selection will be worth it. And nobody will remember that Greg Olsen, Robert Meachem, and Dwayne Bowe were still available at pick 16.

Tyler Dunne is a frequent contributor to E-mail him at

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