Unit by unit analysis: Defense

Position by position breakdown, summary of Green Bay Packers defense

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- DLE Aaron Kampman, DRE Cullen Jenkins, DT Corey Williams, NT Ryan Pickett. Backups -- DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, DE Michael Montgomery, DE Jason Hunter, DT Justin Harrell, DT Daniel Muir, DT Conrad Bolston. Injured reserve -- DT Johnny Jolly, DT Colin Cole.

General manager Ted Thompson cut across the grain in keeping 11 defensive linemen at the outset of the season. The strength in numbers was needed because season-ending shoulder and arm injuries sustained by Jolly and Cole, respectively, in late November sapped the unmatched depth of the unit.

Jolly, a beast starting alongside Pickett, could miss most of the offseason as he recovers from surgery. The significant losses contributed to the Packers' not being stout against the run the final month and a half. Green Bay has to have Pickett, who nursed a groin injury before the playoffs, on the field. Williams is the team's marquee free-agent-to-be and should command a lot of interest that could price him out of returning. That would mean a greater dependency on Harrell, the team's first-round draft pick in 2007 who was a disappointment as he missed most of the season for injury reasons.

The tapped-out line wasn't effective down the stretch in getting to the quarterback. Linemen accounted for 31.5 of the team's 36 sacks in the regular season, but the defense was shut out in four of the last five games. Repeat Pro Bowl selection Kampman and situational pass rusher Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila had productive seasons in combining for 21.5 sacks.

Jenkins, though, was a disappointment after being rewarded with a four-year, $16 million contract in the offseason. He had only one sack, though he fought through a slew of injuries to be somewhat disruptive with nine pass breakups.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- SLB Brady Poppinga, MLB Nick Barnett, WLB A.J. Hawk. Backups -- MLB Desmond Bishop, OLB Tracy White. Injured reserve -- LB Abdul Hodge.

The strength of the defense is at linebacker, never mind that try-hard Poppinga is a liability for his lapses in pass coverage. The playmaking duo of Barnett and Hawk covered a lot of things up in covering a lot of area to track the football.

Barnett turned in his best season in the five he's logged in the league, all as the starter in the middle. He led the team with 165 tackles (109 solo) and played with a vicious demeanor that rubbed many an opponent the wrong way, which probably cost him a deserving first trip to the Pro Bowl.

Hawk, the team's top draft pick in 2006, has yet to have a breakthrough season, but he is precise and relentless in getting to the football.

Since all three starters held up for the entire season, the lack of depth never became an issue. Bishop took his hard hits to special teams in his rookie season, but he will give the coaches pause to consider moving him outside and contend for a starting job. White will be a free agent but is worth bringing back because of his value on special teams. Hodge, a promising third-round draft pick in 2006, has been plagued by patellar tendinitis in both knees since his rookie season.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- RCB Al Harris, LCB Charles Woodson, SS Atari Bigby, FS Nick Collins. Backups -- CB Tramon Williams, CB Will Blackmon, CB Frank Walker, CB Jarrett Bush, S Aaron Rouse, S Charlie Peprah. Injured reserve -- S Tyrone Culver.

Harris was an unsuspecting goat in the season-ending loss to the Giants. His aggressive bump-and-run tactics were countered by Plaxico Burress, who pushed Harris aside and had a field day with 11 receptions and more than 150 receiving yards. Not the way Harris wants to head to Hawaii for his first Pro Bowl.

Although he won more battles than he lost in taking the opponent's top receiver, Harris didn't play like the premier cover corner he's talked up to be in some circles. He had nine pass breakups and just two interceptions.

Woodson had the better season (four INTs, 10 breakups), but advanced age and an assortment of nicks and bruises are slowing him down. This offseason shapes up to be a key one for Ted Thompson to prepare for the future and have guys ready to take over for 30-somethings Harris and Woodson.

Green Bay has a gaggle of young prospects at cornerback and played Bush, Williams and Blackmon quite a bit in situational roles, but not one of them jumped out as starter ready. Blackmon has the biggest upside, but he's been besieged by one complication after another with his right foot. Walker, the lone acquisition by Thompson in free agency last year, offered little as a dime back and probably won't be re-signed.

The situation is more stable at the safety spots. Although Collins is an established starter, his hold on the job at free safety might be no better than tenuous. The imposing Rouse shined with two interceptions as a three-game replacement for an injured Collins in the second half of the season. Bigby's starting role also was in jeopardy, until he came on like gangbusters late in the season and knocked ball carriers senseless with punishing hits. The first-year starter led the team with five interceptions and 11 pass breakups and was behind Barnett and Hawk with 121 tackles (95 solo).

Editor's note: Stay tuned for the special teams analysis Saturday on PackerReport.com.

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