Packers.com reveals the Green Bay Packers' depth chart heading into training camp, offering an insider's look at key position battles, players to watch and locks to make the opening day roster. We analyze the defense in the second of a three-part series.
While the offensive depth chart should look fairly similar to last year, the defense could feature several changes. The players must adjust to defensive coordinator Jim Bates' new attacking scheme, and training camp will include fierce competition for some starting jobs.
The starting defensive ends seem to be set with Aaron Kampman and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila occupying the left and right defensive end positions, respectively. They combined for 18 sacks last year, and both anticipate major production after adjustments in this year's scheme. The defensive ends will play a few steps off and at an angle toward the line of scrimmage instead of man-up against offensive linemen. Bates made this change to let them rush the passer and play the run more effectively. Training Camp will decide who occupies the position behind Kampman. Kenny Peterson, a 2003 third-round pick and college star at Ohio State University, is trying to make the conversion from defensive tackle to defensive end. He is neck-and-neck with Cullen Jenkins, a former undrafted free agent who started six games last year and racked up 4.5 sacks. On the right side, R-Kal Truluck, a pure speed rusher in the mold of Gbaja-Biamila, will man the second string spot. Rookie Michael Montgomery and Seante Williams, who impressed in NFL Europe, will duke it out for spots behind him.
Bates' new scheme calls for big-bodied defensive tackles to occupy blockers, freeing up the linebackers to make plays. Although Grady Jackson did not practice during organized team activities, he fits that mold. He is 32-years-old and has creaky knees, but the Packers are 15-6 with him in the lineup and 2-4 without. The Packers have slated Donnell Washington, a third-round pick from 2004, James Lee and A.J. Lindsay as his backups. Washington has potential but spent last season on injured reserve. The other starting interior position is up for grabs between Cletidus Hunt and Corey Williams. Hunt has not been a participant in any team activities throughout the offseason. Williams, a second-year player, also has the advantage of being five years younger than Hunt. Colin Cole is penciled in as their backup. Last year's opening-day roster featured nine defensive linemen and two others on injured reserve.
Bates has said the linebackers have the most responsibility of any position in his scheme. He wants speedy, athletic players who can fly from sideline to sideline, and this playmaking group will feature some of the stiffest competition in camp. Middle linebacker Nick Barnett, a third-year player with good speed, is the only lock heading into late July. Na'il Diggs has started every year of his six-year career but faces competition from Hannibal Navies and newcomer Ray Thompson. The coaching staff is still determining whether to put the versatile Diggs on the strong or weak side. The starting linebacking corps could have any of the three combinations. The wildcard remains Thompson, a one-time starter for the Arizona Cardinals who possesses the kind of athleticism Bates likes. Rookies Brady Poppinga and Kurt Campbell will provide backup support on the outside. Fourth-year veteran Paris Lenon should serve as the second-string middle linebacker behind Nick Barnett. Undrafted free agents Roy Manning, Nick McNeil and Zac Woodfin will use training camp to try and earn a spot on the team. The Packers had six linebackers on last year's opening day roster.
In the new defense, cornerbacks will play an aggressive man-to-man scheme with the emphasis on contact the line. This style should fit Al Harris, a bump-and-run player locked in at the starting right cornerback position, to a tee. A battle to watch during training camp is starting left cornerback. Joey Thomas, a third-round pick in 2004, outperformed Ahmad Carroll during the OTAs. Thomas has a size advantage over Carroll, last year's first-round pick, but Carroll has sprinter's speed and the experience of starting 11 games last season. Chris Johnson, Leigh Torrence, Chris Day, Mike Hawkins and Patrick Dendy will compete for the remaining spots. Johnson, a speed merchant, was placed on last year's physically unable to perform list. Torrence is an undrafted free agent while Day was cut right before the start of the 2004 season. The Packers selected Hawkins from University of Oklahoma in the fifth round. Watch for Patrick Dendy; the 23-year-old from Rice University is an undrafted free agent, but his performance was the talk of the OTAs.
The safety position could feature battles between cagey veterans and raw youths. The starting strong safety position will likely be occupied by either Arturo Freeman or Earl Little. The Packers signed both as free agents during the offseason. Freeman has an advantage in having played in Bates' scheme with the Miami Dolphins while Little started for the Cleveland Browns last year. At free safety, six-year veteran Mark Roman is slated initially as the starter. Breathing down the necks of Freeman, Little and Roman will be two young, athletic but raw players. The Packers drafted strong safety Marviel Underwood from San Diego State in the fourth round this year and free safety Nick Collins from Bethune-Cookman in the second round. Todd Franz and Julius Curry need impressive training camps to earn spots on the opening day roster. Last year's opening day roster featured nine defensive backs in addition to one player on the PUP list.