Last season, Aaron Kampman piled up a dozen sacks, making him one of only two players (Jason Taylor is the other) in the NFL to post double-digits sacks the last two seasons. His 31 quarterback knockdowns set a team record held by the indomitable Reggie White.
The starter opposite Kampman, Cullen Jenkins, had a disappointing, injury-plagued season. But after posting just one sack during the regular season, he had 1.5 sacks against Seattle in the playoffs. Plus, he had 6.5 sacks in 2006, so he has the ability to be a nuisance to opposing passers.
In addition, pass-rush specialist Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila tallied 9.5 sacks last season.
Problem is, nine of Kampman's 12 sacks came in the first eight games last season, just like 9.5 of his 15.5 sacks came in the first half of 2006. And 6.5 of KGB's sacks came in the first eight games last year, before an ankle injury suffered in Week 11 slowed the speed-rusher's path to the quarterback.
So, while Kampman, Jenkins and Gbaja-Biamila pose headaches when fresh and healthy, they need help. Mike Montgomery was invisible last season and Jason Hunter, despite his 15 sacks as a senior at Appalachian State in 2005, was a non-factor on defense, as well.
Fourth-round pick Jeremy Thompson, who recorded 6.5 sacks as a senior at Wake Forest, will be pushing for immediate playing time. The Packers liked his potential so much that general manager Ted Thompson traded up for the first time during his tenure in Green Bay to acquire Thompson.
"They didn't let him pin his ears back like at a lot of schools and just go, go, go," scout Brian Gutekunst said during the April draft. "I'll be interested to see when he gets a chance to just pin his ears back. At Wake, I thought they asked him to do a lot of things, read-and-react stuff, more than just set him out wide in a stance and come off the corner. I'll be excited to see that, see how he develops in camp with that, getting more opportunities that way."
Thompson's development — or improvement from Montgomery or Hunter — allows the Packers to take advantage of Jenkins' versatility and bolster the inside rush, which figures to be a weakness with Corey Williams pushing the pocket in Cleveland.
"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."
Jenkins is the key, because Kampman can't do it alone. Jenkins averaged five sacks in a reserve role from 2004 to 2006. When he finally got healthy late last season, he started to show the form that netted him a new contract after 2006 and made him a holy terror during the 2007 preseason.
If that Jenkins returns, the Packers will have bookend ends that could turn this defense into something special. And if KGB is healthy and effective — he turns 31 on Sept. 24 and had knee surgery in May — the Packers could have the pass rush that deserted them when they needed it most last season.
Bill Huber writes for Packer Report. E-mail him at email@example.com