Kampman's Hazy Performance

A blow to the head early in the game means a tough game for Aaron Kampman, who is performing better than you think in his first season at outside linebacker. His three sacks through eight games are his fewest since 2005, but he's playing at a high level.

On the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 10th snap of the game, rookie quarterback Josh Freeman got running back Derrick Ward isolated one-on-one against Aaron Kampman in the right flat.

Ward beat Kampman easily and scored on a 6-yard touchdown reception.

That play hardly is indicative of Kampman's play in coverage this season, and for good reason: Kampman sustained a concussion six plays earlier.

"I've been better," Kampman said during a brief interview on Monday, and Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Kampman's availability for Sunday's home game against Dallas is "up in the air."

When the Packers changed defensive schemes and Kampman moved to outside linebacker in the offseason, critics harbored strong doubts about Kampman's ability to play in coverage. Instead, in part because defensive coordinator Dom Capers has limited Kampman's exposure in the passing game and because Kampman is a much better athlete than people give him credit for, he's actually played quite well in coverage.

Unofficially, Kampman had allowed only three completions this season until Sunday.

"Really, if you go back through, you haven't seen anybody really expose Aaron from a coverage standpoint," Capers said on Monday. "I think yesterday there were two or three things where it just wasn't clear for him at that point in time."

No wonder. Kampman suffered a blow to the left side of his head during the first play of the Buccaneers' second series. Aside from getting a breather a few times to keep him fresh in the hot Florida sun, Kampman played until midway through the fourth quarter.

The injury was apparent to Capers when watching film on Monday but went unnoticed during the game. Unlike a leg injury, for instance, in which practically everybody in attendance would notice the player limping, coaches count on the players to talk about head injuries. More often than not, they try to battle through the haze.

"I didn't know because I'm so involved in the game" Capers said. "I do know that, looking back at some of those plays, I can see now where he wasn't himself. I didn't notice it during that time until Kevin (Greene, the outside linebackers coach) came on in the second half and said, ‘Aaron's dinged, he's having some issues.' Do I think it influenced his play? I do think it affected him in the first half."

Being without Kampman against Dallas would be a huge loss against what has emerged as one of the NFL's most explosive offenses. The Cowboys rank fifth in the NFL with 27.1 points per game and are third in yards with 404.5 per game. In his last four games — all Dallas wins to improve to 6-2 — Tony Romo has nine touchdowns and only one interception.

Kampman blossomed into a Pro Bowl performer with 37 sacks over the last three seasons, but he's got only three this year. At the midpoint of 2008, he had six sacks (and finished with 9.5); in 2007, he had nine sacks (and finished with 12); in 2006, he had 9.5 (and finished with 15.5). In 2005, he had 2.5 sacks at the midpoint and finished with 6.5.

However, by the Packers' stats, Kampman has 25 quarterback "hits." Last year, the team counted "hurries and pressures," and Kampman finished with 27 — including 15 through eight games. By the count of Pro Football Focus entering the Week 9 games, Kampman trailed only Dallas' DeMarcus Ware and Pittsburgh's James Harrison among 3-4 outside linebackers when adding sacks, hits and pressures.


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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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