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Notebook: Jenkins Keeps Expanding His Game

Posted Jun 21, 2010

Throughout his career with the Packers, defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins has made himself valuable with his versatility. Now his repertoire is expanding even further, as Jenkins took a handful of snaps in Monday's mini-camp practice as a stand-up outside linebacker, rushing the passer on the edge from a two-point stance.

 

Beginning in 2004, Jenkins proved to be a productive defensive tackle in the previous 4-3 alignment, stuffing the run and rushing the passer from the inside. Then late in the 2006 season, he shifted out to defensive end on early downs and maintained his role as an inside rusher in the nickel package.

Last season he made the switch to defensive coordinator Dom Capers' 3-4 scheme as an end in the base defense and, again, an inside rusher in sub packages.

Now his repertoire is expanding even further, as Jenkins took a handful of snaps in Monday's mini-camp practice as a stand-up outside linebacker, rushing the passer on the edge from a two-point stance.

"It's always good to feel like your game is respected enough where they'll even consider to do things like that, especially being a big guy at 300-plus pounds," Jenkins said. "To be able to get up, move around, drop back in coverage sometimes, things like that. It makes you feel pretty good.

"I always feel like I can pass rush. It's just a matter of what they ask me to do on particular plays."

What Capers is asking appears to be getting more and more varied with Jenkins, who had 4½ sacks last season in his first year in this scheme and was a key cog in the Packers' league-best defense against the run.

Making plays from another spot, in a different stance, is no small adjustment, but the coaches wouldn't have Jenkins experimenting with this if they weren't confident he could be productive.

"We know that he can handle it," Capers said. "We moved him around last year. He's a smart guy. He has background rushing outside on the edge, so I think he can be either an inside or an outside rusher for us. He's got good movement for a guy his size, and he can certainly be a physical guy if we put him out on the edge in terms of playing the run and those types of things."

Listed at 6-foot-2 and 305 pounds, Jenkins said he has dropped some weight but wouldn't specify how much. Make no mistake, his primary responsibilities will still be as a defensive end, and the outside linebacker look is more of a creative specialty package that will be evaluated going forward.

Jenkins said regardless of position or stance, he's constantly working with defensive line coach Mike Trgovac on his pass-rushing skills and that won't change. But "leaning up" a little bit, as he put it, will certainly help him be successful in whatever role he's called upon.

"I've been hitting the weights pretty hard, and I've been on a little different type of cardio workout this year," he said.

"If you don't watch yourself in the league, especially as you start to get in there longer and longer, you get too complacent and you can start gaining, adding five pounds ever year. The next thing you know you'll look up and be 20, 30 pounds heavier than when you came into the league. You just have to stay on top of it and make sure that you're playing at a weight that you're comfortable with."

Fountain of youth
Receiver Donald Driver has been sitting out most of the offseason workouts after having arthroscopic surgeries on both knees following the 2009 campaign. He didn't term the "clean-up" procedures as necessary in order for him to play this year, but to reach his goal of playing until he's 40 years old, they were needed.

"I just wanted to be able to play longer, and for me to play longer, I had to get something done to them," said Driver, who turned 35 in February. "I was playing with it for like the last three, four, five years, in pain, and realized that if I can have the type of seasons I had with them, with hurt knees, just imagine the type of season I can have with healthy knees."

Driver has posted six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, a franchise record, and his six touchdowns last year were his most since 2006. So he has shown no signs of slowing down despite the knee troubles, a testament to the overall shape he keeps his body in.

"He says he wishes he'd done it a long time ago because he feels better than he's felt in years," receivers coach Jimmy Robinson said. "I'm excited to see him in training camp and watch him get out there because he's looking forward to it."

A work-a-holic who almost never misses a practice, Driver will probably be fresher for training camp this summer than he's been in a while because he had to recuperate following the scopes. With a goal of playing at least five more years, that break probably came at a good time.

"It's got to help a guy that's getting up there in age to not have maybe quite as many (offseason) reps," Robinson said. "Maybe in the long run that will be a blessing for him, because he probably wears himself down to a certain extent with how hard he works, how hard he trains."

Adjusting on the fly
In addition to adapting to the NFL game, first-round draft pick and offensive lineman Bryan Bulaga also has spent the OTAs and mini-camp adjusting to facing a 3-4 defense on a daily basis.

Bulaga, drafted with the 23rd overall pick out of Iowa, noted that in the Big Ten he rarely if ever played against a 3-4. He said Minnesota and Ohio State had a few defensive variations that incorporated 3-4 looks, but seeing it on every down in practice is another matter.

"It's different getting adjusted to it, but fortunately the way Iowa blocked it is the way Green Bay blocks it, so I was able to move into it a little bit better," Bulaga said. "The whole terminology and things are worded different, so you had to get used to that. But yeah, it was a little different seeing it, the different personnels that come in on blitzing packages and third-and-long packages.

"And they're good at it."

Staying patient
Of all the Packers' injured players who have been sitting out or resting throughout OTAs and the mini-camp, cornerback Al Harris is the only one Head Coach Mike McCarthy said may not be ready in time to start training camp on July 31.

Harris tore the ACL as well as suffered other damage in his knee in Week 11 vs. San Francisco last season and has been rehabbing to get back on the field for 2010. Harris, who has not set a timeline for himself, is confident he will be back this coming season, but with the start of training camp being just eight months removed from his initial reconstructive surgery, that may be too soon.

"Guys pretty much know that I'm working hard to get back when it's time for me to be back," Harris said. "I can only control what I can control, and that's how hard I work and what I can endure rehab-wise.

"I'm exactly where I need to be for June 21st. Honestly. ... You can't predict. Being the type of injury I'm coming back from, I think I'm doing pretty good."

The rest of the injured list aside from Harris and Driver includes receiver Brett Swain (knee), safeties Will Blackmon (knee) and Derrick Martin (ankle), tight end Spencer Havner (scapula), linebacker Nick Barnett (knee), offensive linemen T.J. Lang (wrist) and Jason Spitz (back), and defensive linemen Ryan Pickett (pectoral) and Ronald Talley (knee).

"I'm hopeful that all the players on that list will pass their physical," McCarthy said.

 
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