Mighty fine D-line

Depth at end and tackle positions create pleasant problem for Packers

Until someone emerges in the crowded battle for the nickel-back role, the Packers defense can hang its collective helmet on a depth-laden line that appears to be well oiled for the upcoming season.

Cullen Jenkins led a dominant performance by the line in its unofficial 2007 debut last Saturday at Pittsburgh. He had two of the group's five sacks and also forced a fumble in Green Bay's 13-9 preseason win at Pittsburgh on Aug. 11.

"Our goal this year is to be the best defensive line and best defense in the league," Jenkins said. "We want to try to carry this team with our play. So, we're just trying to get off to a good start."

Days before the auspicious showing, head coach Mike McCarthy called this year's defensive line the deepest he's been associated with in 15 years as an NFL coach.

"It really started last year," McCarthy said. "I thought that group was the most consistent on the football team and had the most depth. Adding (first-round draft pick) Justin (Harrell) and some other young guys just adds to that depth. It's a very, very competitive position."

As proof, Harrell, despite the accolades of coming in as the team's top draft selection this year, has been working primarily as a third-string tackle after two weeks of training camp. Harrell remains listed as a starter on the depth chart but has been slow to come around because of a ruptured biceps tendon incurred last year in college that kept him out of most offseason activities.

Harrell, though, registered a sack in the first preseason game. His presence and the prospects for a productive future solidify a veritable logjam at the tackle spots.

The Packers have five quality tackles in incumbent starters Ryan Pickett and Corey Williams, along with backups Colin Cole, Johnny Jolly and Harrell.

Jenkins, promoted to starting right end late in the 2006 season, is a versatile lineman and moves inside on a passing downs.

So, Green Bay has essentially six tackles it can comfortably rotate in on a liberal basis. Given the dynamics of creating a 53-man roster, that might be one too many tackles with whom to enter the season.

General manager Ted Thompson hasn't ruled out peddling one of them in a trade.

"I don't know if I've ever gotten to the end of training camp and felt like I had too many defensive linemen that were of that caliber. But, we like our group," Thompson said. "We've got a long way to go before we get to having to make those kinds of decisions.

"You're always looking at where you might have some strengths and where other teams might have some weaknesses, and then, maybe two teams could get together. But, we're not really anticipating anything."

By the same token, the Packers don't have a shortage of playmaking defensive ends.

Jenkins' late-season explosiveness earned him a four-year, $16 million contract to keep him from getting away as an unrestricted free agent. He has begun rewarding the team's investment in him by being a consistent standout in training camp thus far and starring in the first quarter against the Steelers, highlighted by his blind-side strip of the ball from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the pocket.

The attention teams will have to give to Jenkins should benefit left end Aaron Kampman, who is coming off a career-high, NFC-best 15.5-sack season.

The pass rush is further bolstered by the speed duo of Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and Jason Hunter. Gbaja-Biamila was demoted to pass-rush specialist in favor of Jenkins last season because of his deficiencies in stopping the run but, by being fresher on passing downs, stands to recapture his double-digit sack totals from 2001 to '04.

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