Thompson rolled the dice and lost

Why general manager's move with defensive line has backfired

When the final roster cuts were made at the end of training camp, many were a little surprised at how many defensive linemen general manager Ted Thompson kept on the roster. Because some players were coming off injuries, the feeling was Thompson would keep the line as deep as possible.

That didn't exactly happen. The Packers began the season with one defensive linemen less than many experts had predicted, and now that calculated gamble has blown up in the face of the Packers' defense. Green Bay entered the season with five defensive ends and three defensive tackles, one less than the norm for many teams. Thompson waived defensive tackles Daniel Muir, Conrad Bolston and Alfred Malone, when many thought that at least one of the three would stick with the team.

Perhaps Thompson was feeling that less is more and he could bolster other areas of the team. The key to the equation at the time was Cullen Jenkins, who starts at end but also plays tackle. Jenkins is effective in both roles and plays nearly every down - when he's healthy. The Packers were hoping to hold off till the underachieving Justin Harrell made his way back from the physically unable to perform list in mid-October. Harrell missed the entire off-season with a back injury and he didn't play much last year because of injuries.

While that strategy may have looked good on paper, it certainly didn't play out that way. Jenkins was playing great till he was lost for the season in Week 4 at Tampa with a torn pectoral muscle. Ryan Pickett, who missed most of the preseason with a hamstring injury, has been ineffective and played many more downs than usual last Sunday against Atlanta and now his knee is hurting. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, who missed all of the preseason while recovering from knee surgery, has been ineffective. And Johnny Jolly has been bothered by nagging injuries throughout the preseason and into the regular season. Mike Montgomery, who stepped in last week for Jenkins at end, probably won't play Sunday against Seattle because of an ankle injury that he sustained last Sunday.


In the case of the defensive line, one thing has led to another. It has been a ripple effect since Day 1 of training camp and the common thread is injuries. It hasn't been pretty and that has been evident on Sundays.

The Packers are ranked near the bottom of the league in run defense, giving up a whopping 161.1 yards per game. And the Packers aren't much better against the pass.

As we are always told by the coaches and GM's, it all starts up front and the Packers' front line has been messed up since the start of training camp. Why Thompson entered the season a man short is a head-scratcher. Muir, Bolston and Malone were all healthy at the time and comfortable in Green Bay's scheme. Last week the Packers turned to free agent defensive end Kenny Pettway, discarded by the Jacksonville Jaguars on Aug. 30, for help, but don't count on Pettway to solve Green Bay's problems.

And is Harrell really going to make a difference when he returns? That remains to be seen for a player whom many feel is a bust of a first-round pick. He'll get his chance to shed that label Oct. 19 against Indianapolis, but until then the dashboard lights are flashing for Green Bay's defensive line.

The loss of Jenkins was a tough blow to the defense. It will be difficult for the line to overcome Jenkins' setback this season.

Thompson's decision to go with three defensive tackles clearly was a move that he probably won't try again. Let's hope that the GM has learned a lesson and enters next season with a full set of defensive lineman. The move this year with the line is one the he, no doubt, would love to have back.

Todd Korth writes for and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at

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