Starting right defensive end Cullen Jenkins, who finished second on the team with 4.5 sacks last season but could have had almost that many in the Pittsburgh game alone, spent parts of several segments at Monday's minicamp practice essentially playing left outside linebacker.
"Cullen has very rare ability," defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. "I think if you take a look at our game tapes from last year, he's got games in there where I've never seen a defensive tackle rush like him. His biggest problem last year is he didn't finish the sacks. If he would have finished sacks and got the quarterback down, he would have led the league (among defensive linemen) — maybe even battle for the top of the league (overall). He's so quick and so explosive and can do so many different things like that."
Jenkins, who complained about the Packers' vanilla defensive packages early last season, called his new gig "pretty cool."
"We've been with Dom (Capers), this defense, going into the second year now, so I think there's a lot more understanding, I guess, or more comfortable with the relationships, knowing what we have and what guys can do," Jenkins said. "We've already installed the defense, so now we can experiment with a little more stuff."
At times, Jenkins and Clay Matthews were the outside linebackers, with Justin Harrell and Jarius Wynn the ends and B.J. Raji at nose tackle. Trgovac was a little reluctant to talk about the wrinkle, since he'd be giving away a page or two of the defensive playbook. But, since the practice was open to reporters and fans, there was no hush-hushing the new dynamic. Capers, however, tried to downplay things.
"You've got to say, ‘Well, how would we look if this guy got injured?' So you've got to look at alternatives that you have on the roster right now," Capers said.
Jenkins ranked third on the team last season with 25 quarterback hits, by the team's count. Clearly, there's some give and take with Jenkins playing linebacker, whether it's one snap per game or 10 snaps. At 305 pounds, Jenkins would provide a big rusher as a changeup to the quickness of presumed starter Brad Jones and obviously would be formidable on running plays. The drawback, however, is Jenkins lacks a linebacker's quickness.
"There's obviously some things that you're going to try to keep him out of," Trgovac said. "But the surprise element of it, too, of him coming — if you put him in the game as an outside linebacker and bring him every down, then you've got to be an idiot to know, ‘OK, he's over there, he's coming every down.' So, you have to add a little bit of the surprise element in there, but there's certain things that he'll do to keep him out of the danger stuff."
Jenkins, who has 22 sacks in six seasons — including 6.5 in 2006 and 2.5 during his four-game 2008 — took the new scheme as a major compliment.
"It's always good to be, to feel like your game is respected enough where they'll even consider doing things like that with you," Jenkins said. "Especially being a big guy, at 300-plus pounds, to be able to get up, move around and drop back into coverage sometimes and do things like that, it kind of makes you feel pretty good."
Jenkins said he "leaned up a little bit" during the offseason, though it wasn't because of his possible new role.
Whether it's at linebacker, defensive end in the base defense or his usual defensive tackle in nickel, Jenkins believes he has the tools to be that much needed second rusher the Packers need to pair with Matthews.
"Definitely. I always feel like I can pass rush, so it's just a matter of what they ask me to do on particular plays," he said. "I've been working on pass rush still, trying to fix stuff and improve it even more. Me and Trgo have been talking about things, different things, positives and negatives from last year and I'm going to take that stuff, especially into training camp, and try to work with some of that stuff to get better."
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