Packers' defensive outlook

Though Green Bay will be strong at most positions, safety remains the biggest concern as team enters training camp

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LDE Aaron Kampman, RDE Cullen Jenkins, NT Ryan Pickett, DT Corey Williams. Backups - E Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, E Michael Montgomery, E Jason Hunter, E Larry Birdine, E DeVon Hicks, T Justin Harrell, T Colin Cole, T Johnny Jolly, T Daniel Muir.

A unit that was on the upswing at the end of last season, after the high-motor Jenkins was inserted as a starter at end in the base over Gbaja-Biamila, conceivably became better because of the somewhat surprising selection of Harrell in the first round. With that status, Harrell should be a starter, but there's no assurances that he'll be ready to assume the role by the start of the season. No one has yet to see him function in team drills on the practice field. The club didn't rush him back from the ruptured biceps tendon that he sustained early last season at Tennessee, thus training camp will be Harrell's big introduction.

Whether or not Harrell can hold down the early-down duties beside Pickett, Williams remains a pass-rushing cog on the inside. The combination of Kampman (career-high 15 1/2 sacks in 2006), Jenkins and Gbaja-Biamila, now in a situational role, is formidable on the outside.

LINEBACKERS: Starters - WLB A.J. Hawk, MLB Nick Barnett, SLB Brady Poppinga. Backups - Tracy White, Abdul Hodge, Rory Johnson, Desmond Bishop, Juwan Simpson, Tim Goodwell, Spencer Havner.

The centerpieces of the defense are Hawk and Barnett, who combined for nearly 300 tackles last season. However, neither player can be considered a supreme playmaker - they had only 5 1/2 sacks, four interceptions and a forced fumble between them. Throw in Poppinga, who cracked the starting lineup last year, and the common weakness that has to be fixed in short order is letdowns in pass coverage.

The depth at the position is no great shakes. Hodge, who has starting potential, was out the entire offseason because of the knee injury that riddled him most of his rookie season. White is more useful as a special-teams ace. Rookies Bishop (sixth round) and Johnson (undrafted) will vie for possibly one spot. Johnson, who flourished in his own right next to Patrick Willis at Mississippi last year, has to clean up his off-field act after testing twice in college for marijuana use.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Charles Woodson, RCB Al Harris, FS Nick Collins, SS Marquand Manuel. Backups - CB Frank Walker, CB Will Blackmon, CB Patrick Dendy, CB Jarrett Bush, CB Antonio Malone, CB Tramon Williams, S Marviel Underwood, S Aaron Rouse, S Atari Bigby, S Tyrone Culver, S Charlie Peprah, S Alvin Nnabuife.

As long as advanced age doesn't catch up to them, Woodson (co-NFC-high eight interceptions in 2006) and Harris return for a second season together as among the best cover tandems in the league.

Harris was rewarded with a contract extension in the off-season, so the threat of a distraction with previous money demands won't be there in camp. The unit, though, will be worth watching because of heated competition for the starting job at strong safety and for the nickel-back spot.

Walker, the former Giant who was Green Bay's only off-season addition of note, has the bead on being the nickel back but will be challenged by Blackmon and Dendy. Holding the speedy, intuitive Blackmon back, however, has been a spate of injuries since he was a rookie last year.

Meanwhile, Manuel is on shaky ground as the incumbent starter after having a disastrous debut with the team as a free-agent signee. The defense needs an enforcer in that role, which could be provided by Underwood, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, rookie Rouse or upstart Bigby. Collins is entrenched for the third year at free safety but has to shore up his coverage abilities.

Note: Analysis of Green Bay's special teams will be posted Wednesday on

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