Grading the Packers: Defensive line

Individual assessments for defensive ends, tackles

Green Bay's defensive line was effective early in the season, but tapered off down the stretch and into the playoffs. Because of the inconsistency, look for Packers general manager Ted Thompson to reinforce the depth along the line in order to create more pressure on opposing quarterbacks and shut down running backs on a consistent basis.

The Packers were 14th overall in the league in rushing defense (102.9 yards per game) and tied for 12th in the league with 36 sacks. Though the Packers sacked the Giants' Eli Manning twice in the NFC Championship game, the defense allowed the Giants 134 yards rushing.

Here are grades for the defensive linemen:

Aaron Kampman: The sixth-year defensive end followed up one Pro Bowl season with another as he led the team with 12 sacks and was first among defensive linemen with 91 tackles in 15 games. He sat out the regular season finale (coaches' decision) to prepare for the playoffs.

Kampman was named NFC Defensive player of the Month for October, and had at least one sack in seven straight games. He also knocked down two passes, had one fumble recovery and forced a fumble. He has attributed his success to off-season workouts, which emphasize explosive movements.

Kampman, however, was held to one sack in the final four regular season games (three sacks over final seven games) that he played.
Grade: A-

Cullen Jenkins: After signing a four-year, $15.5 million contract extension last February, the Packers were hoping for a big season from Jenkins. But he was slowed by knee and ankle injuries during the year and finished 10th on the team with 49 tackles, one sack, and nine passes that he batted down at the line of scrimmage. He was third on the team with 22 quarterback pressures, and he had 1 ½ sacks against Seattle in the NFC Divisional playoff game.

Jenkins, who also saw action on the inside on passing downs, may be moved inside permanently if the Packers do not re-sign Corey Williams, and if they either sign a defensive end in free agency or obtain one in the NFL draft.
Grade: C+

Ryan Pickett: The big veteran nose tackle is the foundation of the defensive line, which he has shown that the last two seasons. Pickett, who often takes on two blockers so others can get a free lane to the quarterback, started 14 of 16 regular season games and both playoff games. He was seventh on the team with 63 tackles in the regular season. He also had one sack and one pass defensed.
Pickett missed the final 2 ½ games of the regular season with a groin injury. He has two seasons left on a four-year, $15 million deal he signed in 2006.
Grade: B+

Corey Williams: The unrestricted free agent to be had a career-high 51 tackles and tied a career-high with seven sacks (third on team). He also had one interception, one pass defensed and tied for a team high with three forced fumbles.

Williams started nine games, though, he was playing behind Johnny Jolly before Jolly injured his shoulder in late November.
Grade: B

Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila: The pass-rushing defensive end finished with 9 ½ in 2007 and is now Green Bay's career leader with 74 career sacks, surpassing Reggie White's 68 ½ in a Packers' uniform.

Gbaja-Biamila played in 15 of 16 games, missing Green Bay's Nov. 29 game at Dallas with an ankle injury that he sustained a week earlier at Detroit. He had 36 tackles (26 solo), two forced fumbles and two passes defensed. He was second on the team with 23 quarterback hurries.

Though he is scheduled to earn a salary of $6.15 million in 2008, the Packers are expected to retain Gbaja-Biamila because of his ability to sack quarterbacks.
Grade: B

Justin Harrell: The first-round draft pick has his work cut out for him this offseason in order to improve on his rookie year. He got a chance to play only because of injuries to two other players – Johnny Jolly and Colin Cole - in front of him. Otherwise, Harrell would have barely played at all.

Harrell played in seven regular season games with two starts, and was inactive for nine games. He had 24 tackles, no sacks and two quarterback pressures, and played in both postseason games.

Harrell will have to work on his mechanics and learn to use his hands better to shed blockers and penetrate into the opponents' backfield. Until that happens, the jury will be out on the defensive tackle.
Grade: D

Johnny Jolly: The second-year pro was beginning to stand out until he injured his shoulder Nov. 18 against Carolina. He had 31 tackles, one sack, knocked down five passes, and had one quarterback pressure. He was placed on injured reserve on Dec. 11.

Jolly is expected to enter the upcoming season as the starter next to Pickett at defensive tackle, but that could change if Cullen Jenkins is moved inside and the Packers obtain another defensive end to start opposite Aaron Kampman.
Grade: B-

Colin Cole: He played mainly in a reserve role behind Pickett until he sustained a broken forearm on Thanksgiving Day against the Detroit Lions. He finished with 13 tackles, no sacks and one pass defensed. He was placed on injured reserve on Nov. 25.

Cole is a good run stopper who will be given a chance to make the team again this offseason.
Grade: C

Michael Montgomery: The defensive end missed the first seven games of the season with a knee injury sustained in the preseason and finished 22 tackles, plus five more on special teams during the regular season. He also played in both postseason games.

Montgomery did not have any quarterbacks sacks and just one pressure in the time that he played during the regular season. His future may not be bright as a Packer.
Grade: D

Jason Hunter: Led special teams with 25 tackles and also recovered an onside kick. He also served as a wedge blocker for kickoff returns on special teams. He did not see much action on defense as the team's fifth defensive end, finishing with three tackles.
Grade: C+

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