Packer Report's front-seven lineup

After conversations with the assistants, publisher Bill Huber takes a stab at the defensive line and linebackers in the new 3-4 defense.

On Tuesday, Packers coach Mike McCarthy confirmed what everyone else had assumed.

"When we line up the first base defense, yes, Aaron (Kampman) will be an outside linebacker," he proclaimed.

McCarthy said the team had assembled a preliminary depth chart as a starting point, but that list remains top secret, and none of the assistant coaches gave any hints to who is going to be lining up where.

With that said, Packer Report takes a stab at the Packers' defensive front seven, with these guesses based on general conversations with the new coaching staff.

Left defensive end: Starter — Johnny Jolly. Backups — Justin Harrell, Alfred Malone. Comments — At 6-foot-3 and 320 pounds, Jolly would be asked to shed about 20 pounds in hopes of improving his quickness. The Steelers' ends, for instance, weigh about 295. Of course, his availability is in limbo based on drug charges in Texas. Harrell, defensive ends coach Mike Trgovac hinted, likely would go to end. At 6-foot-4 and 320, he's not big or physical enough to handle the rigors of playing nose tackle. At this point, it doesn't sound like he needs a third surgical procedure on his back. Malone (6-4, 312) showed some flash as a pass rusher late in the season. The same can't be said of Harrell.

Nose tackle: Starter — Ryan Pickett. Backup — Colin Cole. Comments — Nose tackle, Trgovac said, is the key position to the defensive line. If he doesn't demand a double team, then the inside linebackers have to fight through more traffic. At 6-foot-2, 330, Pickett has the necessary bulk, but his cranky knees are in issue. Cole is 6-1, 330, so he's got the size and strength to do the job, but he's a free agent. Whether he's re-signed or not, the Packers have to add a body here through free agency or the draft. Most likely, it would be the draft, because it's a weak crop of nose tackles in this year's free agent pool.

Right defensive end: Starter — Cullen Jenkins. Backups — Michael Montgomery, Malone. Comments — Jenkins and Montgomery lined up on the right side last year, so there's no reason to tinker. Assuming he comes back healthy from a season-ending chest injury, Jenkins seems like a perfect fit for the defense. At 6-foot-2 and 305, he's got ideal size. And he's got the ability to be a "transition pass rusher," which Trgovac says is critical for ends, because they have to play run first, then transition to rushing the quarterback. Montgomery, at 6-5, 273, is going to have to bulk up to make it. Either way, the Packers need help at this position, too.

Left outside linebacker: Starter — Aaron Kampman. Backups — Jeremy Thompson, Jason Hunter. Kampman, with 37 sacks from left defensive end over the last three seasons, changes positions but not sides of the formation. The left outside linebacker typically is bigger than his counterpart on the right because teams are more apt to run off of right tackle (to the defense's left side). Thompson and Hunter, who had to bulk up in the 4-3, would be asked to slim down. Thompson, who showed sporadic glimmers of pass-rush ability as a rookie, gets to watch and learn behind Kampman. He was good in coverage at Wake Forest, which is a major plus, and perhaps new outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene can improve Thompson's motor. Hunter's superior athletic ability has rarely flashed into on-field production. Maybe, this system will help.

Left inside linebacker: Starter — A.J. Hawk. Backup — Danny Lansanah. Hawk, at 6-1 and 248, is about the same size as Baltimore's RILB, Ray Lewis (6-1, 250). He had a terrible third season in the NFL, perhaps because a groin injury was more severe than he let on. This could certainly be a make-or-break season for 2006's fifth overall pick, who has made precious few impact plays in his brief career. Lansanah also is 6-1, 248. He played sparingly on defense last season, so it's hard to say how he fits into the mix.

Right inside linebacker: Starter — Nick Barnett. Backups — Desmond Bishop. Barnett, who's listed at 6-foot-2 and 236 pounds, isn't much smaller than Baltimore's outstanding LILB, Bart Scott (6-2, 240). Of course, his availability is in question after tearing an ACL at midseason at Minnesota. Thus, Bishop (6-2, 238) might get a chance to seize a spot in the lineup. He was the only playmaker among the Packers' linebackers last season, but he also gave up several big plays, especially in coverage. Bishop could figure in the mix on the right side, especially when Barnett is healthy.

Right outside linebacker: Starter — Brady Poppinga. Backups — Brandon Chillar, Hunter. Comments — It will be interesting to watch Poppinga. His passion and intensity will be loved by Greene. Poppinga had 20 sacks at Brigham Young, but showed almost no pass-rush ability during the second half of the 2008 season, when he was thrust into that role. Perhaps Greene can be the difference. Chillar, with his coverage abilities, certainly will be in the mix, especially if Poppinga shows he can't get after the quarterback. With a big-time draft class of prospects suited to play 3-4 outside linebacker, the Week 1 starter might not be on the roster.

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Lambeau Level forum.


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