Key to the defense: Jenkins

Versatile defensive lineman has the ability to add to the pass rush after an injury-plagued 2007 season.

If Aaron Rodgers is the key to the Packers' offense this season, then Cullen Jenkins is the key for the defense.

The linebacking corps is the defense's strength. The starting cornerbacks, their age notwithstanding, are among the best in the NFL, and Tramon Williams is on track to be a fine nickel corner. The safeties are decent, and young enough to get much better.

That leaves the defensive line. End Aaron Kampman is a stud, and tackle Ryan Pickett is a rock against the run. The other tackle spot is a major question mark.

Which leaves Jenkins as the end opposite Kampman.

Jenkins' insertion into the starting lineup was a key to the Packers' revival to end the 2006 season. He was rewarded with a four-year contract extension worth $16 million. While hardly blockbuster money, it looked like a bad deal for the Packers when Jenkins recorded just one sack in an injury-plagued 2007 season.

There's reason to believe Jenkins will have a bounce-back 2008. He bagged three sacks in the first two preseason games before getting hurt. More importantly, he had 1.5 sacks in the playoff victory over Seattle.

The Packers need someone other than Kampman to put heat on the quarterback on normal downs and distances, when they won't have Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila on the field and will be less inclined to blitz. And with Corey Williams rushing the passer in Cleveland, the Packers don't have a tackle capable of putting consistent pressure on the passer.

That's why Jenkins, with his ability to play end on first and second down and move inside on third down, is so crucial.

"Cullen Jenkins has the ability to play across the line and gives you excellent flexibility in matchups," coach Mike McCarthy said, "so if he is playing out there on first and second down and moves inside on third down, those are all things that are to your benefit."

It's the most-basic tenet of defensive football: Rush the passer, and good things will happen. Jenkins, who had 6.5 sacks in 2006, is the one player on the roster who's capable of adding extra juice to a pass rush that at times was nonexistent last season.

Steve Lawrence is a frequent contributor to E-mail him at

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