D-Line Gets Stronger, Deeper With Harrell

General Manager Ted Thompson believes in having a deep stable of defensive linemen, able to battle within the ranks for playing time and rotate with one another on the playing field. That’s why Thompson, who surprised many by not taking an offensive skill player in the first round of Saturday’s NFL Draft, couldn’t pass on Tennessee defensive tackle Justin Harrell with the 16th overall pick. - More Ted Thompson Press Conference Transcript

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General Manager Ted Thompson believes in having a deep stable of defensive linemen, able to battle within the ranks for playing time and rotate with one another on the playing field.

That's why Thompson, who surprised many by not taking an offensive skill player in the first round of Saturday's NFL Draft, couldn't pass on Tennessee defensive tackle Justin Harrell with the 16th overall pick.

Not necessarily an area of need, the defensive line gets a boost nonetheless with the addition of Harrell, a 6-foot-3 1/2, 302-pound run plugger who's explosive off the ball and is expected to be a strong addition to the current defensive tackle crew of Ryan Pickett, Corey Williams, Johnny Jolly and Colin Cole.

"I think he'll fit in very good with our guys," Thompson said in a press conference after making his first pick. "We like having a lot of good defensive linemen, and the last month or so we felt very strongly that we'd like to add another young guy with our group because we have good leadership in that group, and these guys will help this young man come along."

Harrell has come a long way already, battling back from a torn bicep injury that cost him most of his senior year with the Volunteers. The injury occurred in the season's second game, against Air Force, and he was ruled out for the year.

But, showing his dedication to the game and his team, Harrell insisted on playing against Southeastern Conference rival Florida in the next game, and despite a heavily taped bicep made three tackles for no gain. He then missed the rest of the season, and some reports had Harrell as a potential top-10 pick had he not gotten hurt.

"It was an opportunity for me to go out and pretty much put a closure on my Tennessee career the way I wanted to," Harrell said in a conference call with the media. "I had made the decision to come back my senior year, and I didn't want my last memory at Tennessee to be getting hurt against Air Force in the second half."

Thompson noted that the team's medical staff checked out Harrell's bicep at the Scouting Combine. It has been surgically repaired appears fine. Harrell also had some ankle injuries early in his college career, but none since 2004.

Thompson said the Packers looked into trade possibilities in the first round, both up and down. But he couldn't find a team willing to move back to the 16th spot, and of the five calls he received inquiring about moving up to 16, none offered a trade worth the risk of losing out on Harrell.

His value to the Volunteers' defensive line is perhaps best summed up statistically. In the three games Harrell played as a senior, the Vols recorded eight sacks. In the 10 games he missed, they had just 10 more sacks.

"He has the potential to have been a single-digit pick, and you watch him play, once you see him on tape, you can certainly see that," Thompson said. "But you never know how it would have worked out.

"We just like the way he played, like the way he goes about his business. He's a good human being, a good guy to add to our locker room, and I think his best football is in front of him."

Harrell's background includes some interesting ties to the Packers. He's from the small town of Martin, Tenn., the same hometown as veteran Packers offensive tackle Chad Clifton, and he's the last Tennessee player to wear No. 92, worn by former Vols and Packers superstar Reggie White.

"I guess I'm following in his footsteps a little because now I'm a Green Bay Packer," Harrell said of the late White, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame posthumously last year. Harrell will wear No. 91 with the Packers.

{sportsad300}"He had a lot of years up there as a great player for the Packers. It was an honor (to wear his jersey). I got a chance to meet him a couple times at Tennessee, he came and spoke to the team. He was a great man and somebody you want to pattern your game after."

As for his small-town background, Harrell is no stranger to large, passionate crowds. Tennessee's Neyland Stadium in Knoxville holds more than 104,000 fans who are as intensely loyal to their college team as Packers fans are to their professional one.

That passion actually elicited boos at the Draft Day Party in the Lambeau Field Atrium when Thompson addressed the crowd after making the first pick. The fans clearly were disappointed the Packers didn't address a perceived need with their first-round pick, but that's never been Thompson's approach to the draft.

"We don't draft based on needs, and I know that's boring and I hate to be repetitive, but we don't think that's the best policy," Thompson said. "We think really and truly that the more good players, good football players, regardless of position you can add to your team, the better off you are as an organization and as a team."

Harrell didn't take the booing of his selection personally, but he certainly has some added incentive to make a good first impression. He'll be in attendance next weekend for the team's rookie orientation, perhaps more raring to go than most, having missed so much of his senior college season.

"Hopefully when I get there and show them what I can do, it will turn those boos to cheers," Harrell said. "I'm just looking for the opportunity and I can't wait to get up there."

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