Who Makes Final 53: Defense

With offseason practices beginning on Monday, Packer Report projects who makes the Week 1 roster. The big question marks? Will the Packers have to add a veteran outside linebacker? And is the cornerback group as deep as it looks on paper?

Four weeks of organized team activities begin on Monday, with the first practice on Tuesday. There are 87 players on the roster, though only 77 officially because of 10 unsigned players (three restricted free agents and seven draft picks). Here is how things are shaping up leading into five weeks of OTAs and the mandatory minicamp (June 21-23).

Rookies denoted with (R).

For offense, click here.

Defensive line

On the roster: Cullen Jenkins, Ryan Pickett, Johnny Jolly, B.J. Raji, Jarius Wynn, Ronald Talley, Anthony Toribio, Justin Harrell, Mike Neal (R), C.J. Wilson (R), Aleric Mullins (R).

Who will make it (7): Jenkins, Pickett, Jolly, Raji, Harrell, Neal, Wilson.

The decision: The Packers kept six defensive linemen last season but, with the additions of second-rounder Neal and seventh-rounder Wilson, they'll be inclined to keep seven. The wild card, of course, is Harrell. He hasn't been healthy in his first three seasons in Green Bay so why expect it to be any different in 2010? By keeping two fullbacks instead of three, the Packers can stick with Harrell and see if they get any return on investment as a run-stopper.

Linebackers

On the roster (9): Clay Matthews III, Brad Jones, Nick Barnett, A.J. Hawk, Brandon Chillar, Desmond Bishop, Brady Poppinga, Cyril Obiozor, Robert Francois, Alex Joseph (R), Tim Knicky (R), John Russell (R), Frank Zombo (R).

Who will make it: Matthews, Jones, Barnett, Hawk, Chillar, Bishop, Poppinga, Obiozor, Zombo.

The decision: The big question is whether Ted Thompson will add a veteran to the equation. The Packers didn't replace Aaron Kampman or Jeremy Thompson with a draft pick or in free agency, and Poppinga just hasn't produced much on defense in a couple of years. Presumably with one year in the system, Obiozor earns a promotion. Will one of the undrafted guys — Knicky, Russell or Zombo — play well enough to merit the ninth roster spot? Knicky was a small-school star with huge sack production; Zombo is bigger and played against better competition.

Defensive backs

On the roster: CB — Charles Woodson, Al Harris, Tramon Williams, Will Blackmon, Pat Lee, Brandon Underwood, Josh Bell, Trevor Ford, D.J. Clark, Sam Shields (R). S — Nick Collins, Atari Bigby, Derrick Martin, Charlie Peprah, Khalil Jones, Morgan Burnett (R), Anthony Levine (R). Combo — Jarrett Bush.

Who will make it (10): Woodson, Harris, Williams, Lee, Underwood, Shields, Collins, Bigby, Martin, Burnett.

The decision: Safety is probably cut-and-dried. Cornerback? Not so much. Based on the names, it's obvious why Thompson didn't deem it a priority to draft a corner. But can anyone stay healthy? Harris, Lee and Blackmon all sustained season-ending injuries. Maybe Harris opens the season on PUP, based on the date of his injury (Nov. 22). If not, it probably comes down to Underwood vs. Blackmon. Underwood showed some promise last year. Blackmon is the only proven returner on the roster but has played in only 32 of 64 career regular-season games.

Special teams

On the roster: P — Chris Bryan, Tim Masthay. K — Mason Crosby. LS — Brett Goode.

Who will make it (3): Masthay, Crosby, Goode.

The decision: It's no surprise that Goode has no challenger; he's been impeccable in two seasons. It is a surprise that nobody has been brought in to push Crosby, who is coming off the worst season of a disappointing three-year run as kicker. The big battle is at punter. Neither has even punted in a preseason game. At least Masthay has punted in a game — he punted for Kentucky all four seasons.


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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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