Training camp preview: Defensive tackles

Pickett is a stud against the run, but there are question marks galore with the rest of the position, says Packer Report's Bill Huber

The Green Bay Packers need their defensive tackles to do a bang-up job instead of just being banged up.

Role call could have been taken in the infirmary during the offseason practices. Last year's first-round pick, Justin Harrell, needed back surgery after injuring himself lifting weights. Johnny Jolly, expected to battle Harrell for a starting job, was out because of a shoulder injury that took him out of the lineup for last year's stretch run. Colin Cole was out with a broken forearm suffered last season. Daniel Muir missed most of the offseason with an injured pectoral.

Add in the trade that sent Corey Williams and his seven sacks to Cleveland and Jolly's legal problems stemming from his recent arrest for possession of codeine, and a position of strength has become a position of trauma.

Fortunately, Ryan Pickett is back to anchor the middle. One of the NFL's most underrated defensive tackles, Pickett is a monster against the run. He'll need to be even better this season considering the collection of question marks who will line up next to him.

Jolly and Williams basically split time last season until Jolly went down with a torn rotator cuff. His play was one reason why general manager Ted Thompson elected to trade Williams for a second-round pick, but Jolly's arrest could come back to haunt the Packers. Jolly faces 20 years in prison, and tough-on-crime Commissioner Roger Goodell may not wait for a grand jury to determine whether a trial is necessary before handing out a suspension.

Harrell is the other reason why Thompson thought he could trade Williams. While many fans have slapped the "bust" tag on Harrell, defensive tackles generally take some time to develop. Plus, because Harrell missed most of his senior season at Tennessee with an injured elbow, he entered last season behind the learning curve.

Of course, missing all of this offseason's practices is putting Harrell in a similar situation and taking away some of the gains he made when he finally got on the field regularly last season.

"Any time you can get more reps, it makes you better, especially along the defensive line," Pickett said, talking about what he gained with his strong attendance in the offseason program but speaking volumes about what his teammates missed. "The more times you see something, the better you get at it."

If the injuries and legal problems keep this unit gutted, the Packers will turn to defensive end Cullen Jenkins to fill a void at tackle. Shoring up one area, however, only creates problems at another, and the Packers aren't exactly loaded at end unless some of the young players emerge. The Packers would prefer to keep Jenkins on the outside, then move him inside to help replace Williams' pass rush on passing downs.

Bill Huber writes for Packer Report. E-mail him at

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