Roster wild cards: The defense

We switch sides of the ball for Part 2 of this feature as well as take a look at one rookie and one coach to note. Keys for the defense? The play of two players sidelined by injuries last season.

You know the stars, but here are some of the wild cards — one at each position group on defense, plus a coach and a rookie.

Defensive line: Cullen Jenkins

Jenkins was a one-man gang last season. In his four games, he piled up 19 quarterback pressures and 2.5 sacks. The Packers won their first two games. They were 2-1 and leading 21-20 in the fourth quarter at Tampa Bay when he suffered a season-ending torn pectoral. The Packers lost that game 30-21 and spiraled to 6-10. Without Jenkins, the defense struggled against the run and failed to get consistent pressure on the quarterback. Jenkins will start at right defensive end in the new 3-4 defense. While defensive end isn't a playmaking position in a 3-4, that doesn't mean Jenkins' talents will be wasted. Pittsburgh's Aaron Smith, for instance, posted 5.5 sacks last season and one in the playoffs. Jenkins will remain a factor on passing downs, when he'll move inside as part of a four-man line.

Linebacker: Desmond Bishop

Bishop is second on the depth chart at inside linebacker behind A.J. Hawk. Chances are, Bishop will be a reserve and a core special-teams performer. Can Bishop force his way onto the field on defense? Bishop, clearly the biggest hitter among the inside linebackers, tallied three forced fumbles in 15 games (one start) last season. By contrast, the projected starting inside linebackers of Nick Barnett and Hawk combined to force one fumble (by Barnett) in 25 starts.

Defensive back: Atari Bigby

The most famous hamstring in Green Bay last season belonged to Ryan Grant, but the most painful hamstring belonged to safety Atari Bigby. Coming off of a breakthrough 2007 in which he helped spearhead the Packers' run to the NFC title game with five interceptions and his hard-hitting style, Bigby was injured in Week 2 at Detroit and the defense suffered. The Packers went 3-3 with him in the starting lineup and 3-7 without him. In the new defense, he'll play the role of Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu. No other safety on the roster is better equipped to handle those chores as an enforcer and big-play performer.

Coach: Shawn Slocum

While the spotlight is on new defensive coordinator Dom Capers and his staff — including the charismatic Kevin Greene — don't overlook the vital role of Slocum. Other than returning punts, the Packers' special teams didn't excel at anything last season, and the problems punting and returning kickoffs have been well-documented. It will be up to Slocum to find a punter, improve kicker Mason Crosby's subpar accuracy on field goals, add some juice to the NFL's last-ranked kickoff return and put an end to the breakdowns that plagued the kickoff coverage unit. Special teams can help win games (see Will Blackmon's punt return touchdown in Week 1 vs. Minnesota) and lose games (see kickoff returns in loss to Carolina and a blocked field goal that would have won the game at Chicago). If the Packers want to return to their playoffs, they can't afford to give away games on special teams.

Rookie: T.J. Lang

Looking beyond the obvious choices of first-round picks B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews III, there's Lang. Lang, who signed a four-year contract on Tuesday, is a big, strong and intelligent offensive lineman who ended the offseason as the backup at right guard and right tackle. With the Packers replacing their right guard (Jason Spitz is moving to center) and right tackle (Mark Tauscher was not offered a contract), neither of those positions are solidified. Josh Sitton is the front-runner at right guard and Allen Barbre is the favorite at right tackle, but the coaches are anxious to see Lang perform when the full-contact practices begin in training camp. If he plays as well with the pads on as he did with the pads off, he could be this year's version of Sitton — a fourth-rounder who forces his way into the lineup.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine 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 Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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