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Healthy Jenkins Making Presence Felt


DE Cullen Jenkins

For defensive end Cullen Jenkins, having something to prove is a feeling he has become accustomed to ever since he entered the league as a non-drafted free agent and was cut in his first training camp.

After battling injuries throughout much of last season, Jenkins once again finds himself in a similar position as he focuses on staying healthy and making more of an impact in '08.

Jenkins has done just that the first two games, earning a game ball for his performance against the Vikings in the season opener as he posted five tackles and helped limit Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson to just 28 yards on 10 carries in the second half of the Packers' 24-19 win.

He followed that up with three tackles and a sack of Jon Kitna at Detroit last Sunday, matching his sack total from all of last season.

"He's off to a great start," defensive tackles coach Robert Nunn said. "It's still early, but he's been very disruptive in both games. He's been a factor in the run and pass game. He's off to a positive start and he's just got to keep stacking successes."

One of the most obvious factors in Jenkins' fast start has been his health.

"I'm about as close to 100 percent as I have been in a long time," Jenkins said. "I've still got some aches here and there, but that just comes with the game. It may ache a little, but it doesn't affect your performance."

Jenkins couldn't say the same about the injuries that he dealt with in '07. His first one came in the third game of the season vs. San Diego when he pulled a rib muscle, which was followed up less than a month later vs. Washington when he sustained injuries to both his ankle and knee.

Jenkins added that he had other injuries last season, but "can't even remember them all." Despite how banged up he was, Jenkins did play in all 16 games with 15 starts, and posted 49 tackles and nine passes defensed, the most by a Packers defensive lineman since the team began recording the statistic in 1980.

"There were probably a few games last year where maybe I shouldn't have played and should have let my body get healthier so the injuries wouldn't nag on," Jenkins said. "You try to be tough and you think you can overcome them, but sometimes unfortunately they do have an effect on your performance."

The '07 season was a disappointing one for Jenkins after a breakthrough campaign in 2006. After playing almost strictly at tackle his first two-plus seasons in Green Bay, he began to take more snaps at defensive end on early downs in an effort to improve the run defense and also to rest defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila for passing downs.

Jenkins saw increased time at end for the final four games in '06 and the Packers won all four. He also got a chance to show off his pass-rushing abilities as he posted career highs in tackles (7) and sacks (3) vs. Detroit and finished the season with a career-high 6.5 sacks.

In February 2007, the Packers signed Jenkins to a four-year contract extension just days before he was due to become a restricted free agent. For a player who wasn't drafted coming out of Central Michigan, the contract was a dream realized, but also added to the frustration he felt last season.

"After you sign a contract like that, you don't want to be considered a guy that shuts it down or isn't playing as hard," Jenkins said. "You are out trying hard to prove to people that you can play through stuff. I wasn't able to show that."

To help get back on track for '08, Jenkins said he spent more time in the weight room this offseason working with strength and conditioning coordinator Rock Gullickson.

{sportsad300}"I really wanted to work on my speed a lot and get more flexible," Jenkins said. "Playing out on the edge, you need the speed a lot more than you do on the inside. There were a lot of times where I felt that I wasn't as fast as I could have been to chase plays down.

"I just went into the workouts with a different attitude as far as wanting to improve."

Jenkins also worked with a personal trainer in Detroit for two weeks before training camp began in late July. He also made one more lifestyle change that was more of a challenge: watching what he ate.

"I haven't done a drastic change, but I've done a lot of little things, like eating late at night," Jenkins said. "I've tried to avoid it, and now if I do, I try to eat fruit or something that is better instead of eating leftover fried chicken and fries and stuff like that.

"I'm eating smaller meals throughout the day on a more consistent basis. It still is difficult. A lot of times you look at stuff and you want to eat it. I still want to get hot wings from KFC every day."

Jenkins said he now weighs 305 pounds after getting up to 320 in the offseason, and might even try to get down to 300.

It didn't take long for Jenkins' offseason work to be put to the test as he was on the field for 56 plays against Minnesota.

"With some of the injuries we have had and the low numbers, I have played more snaps this year than I think I have ever played here," Jenkins said. "I don't think I have played this many snaps since college.

"I think me being a little lighter, faster and in better shape has helped me to make it through. In the past I don't know if I would have made it through some of these games."

Jenkins' days at defensive tackle are not over, as he still often swings inside on passing downs. With only three healthy defensive tackles on the roster in Ryan Pickett, Johnny Jolly, and Collin Cole, his versatility becomes even more important.

"It's good to have a guy like that can do it and he's built for that," defensive ends coach Carl Hairston said. "He's compact and he's explosive and he's fast. It's very seldom that we run across a guy like that. He's going to be a factor wherever he lines up, and that's a big plus for our defense."

As the Packers' defense prepares for what will likely be one of the most challenging games of the year Sunday against an explosive Cowboys offense, Jenkins is just happy to finally be heading into games at full strength.

"Just coming off of the year last year, it's a lot to prove, even to myself," Jenkins said. "Years like that can discourage you and make you feel like you are on the decline, so you really have to refocus and pay attention to the little details that helped you to get here."

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