Long Wait Almost Over For Jenkins

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Opening up at home in prime time against a division rival is a special way to start a season for any player, but for Packers defensive end Cullen Jenkins, being out on the field Sunday night might have even a little added excitement.

For Jenkins, it will be his first time playing in a regular-season game in nearly a year after his 2008 campaign was cut short due to a pectoral injury suffered at Tampa Bay in Week 4.

The injury occurred early in the fourth quarter as he attempted to bring down quarterback Brian Griese for a sack, and it required surgery. Jenkins said he doesn't feel any effects from the injury other than some occasional stiffness when he is lifting weights.

"It's been a long time," Jenkins said. "I've never been on IR before, never missed that many games. I'm just anxious to get back out there and pick up where I left off.

"I definitely gained a new appreciation of things. You realize that in just one play, your season can come to an end, so you've got to make it count."

Where he left off was playing what he called some of the best football of his career as he posted 18 tackles and 2½ sacks in the first four games. Jenkins also had two more tackles in the backfield, bringing down running back Felix Jones for a 5-yard loss against Dallas in Week 3 and running back Earnest Graham for a 3-yard loss at Tampa Bay the next week.

"It was frustrating, but you've got to take it for what it is," Jenkins said. "I've watched my brother (Kris, nose tackle for N.Y. Jets) go through it and plenty of people around here go through it. I was lucky enough to not have to go through it up until last year. It's one of those things where you can't control it so you just have to build off of it.

"I felt like I was off to a good start. It was unfortunate, but it's probably better that I was off to a good start instead of a bad start or they probably would have been looking to replace me or something."

Not likely, but indicative of Jenkins' mentality, having come into the league as a non-drafted free agent who was cut in his first training camp with the Packers in 2003. After a successful stint in NFL Europe in 2004, Jenkins made the roster that season, and has been a fixture on Green Bay's defensive line ever since.

"He's extremely explosive," defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. "He's a guy that can get himself started to his target very quickly, and that's a little bit of God-given ability right there. Not many guys have that, the ability to get down in a stance and explode into a gap or explode into a man."

Those abilities will be put to the test this season as Jenkins transitions into a new role in the 3-4 defense, one that he admits came with a few reservations when the team hired defensive coordinator Dom Capers in January.

"I wasn't excited right off the bat," Jenkins said. "Any time you change something you're going to have that thought process where you are like, 'How is this going to work? Am I going to fit? How am I going to do? What would the coach expect from me?' We came in and we got everything ironed out and now everybody feels good."

After playing both defensive end and tackle during his first five seasons in Green Bay's 4-3 alignment, Jenkins' responsibilities as an end in the 3-4 will require him to occupy blockers more to free up the team's linebackers to make plays, but the opportunity to make plays himself will still be there.

"There are definitely some differences, but there are also some similarities," Trgovac said. "It depends on the front we are in and the personnel people give us. He's going to be in some of the techniques that he has played here the last so many years a lot, and he's going to be in some of the new techniques of the 3-4.

"It's a good mixture. He won't strictly be sitting there as a guy that is going to swallow up double teams. That's not Dom's style and that's not what this defense is about."

{sportsad300}Trgovac said there will be times when Jenkins will align himself head up on an offensive tackle, a change from what he would do as an edge rusher to the outside of a tackle in the past. Jenkins likely won't come off the field very much as he is expected to also be one of two down linemen when the team goes to its nickel package.

"Cullen Jenkins is a disruptive player," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "He's done it for us both inside and outside. I think he's an every-down player that I've always felt is one of the better players on our football team. His health is important to the success of our defensive line, and he definitely brings that to the table."

What Jenkins did for the other linemen last season was apparent as the Packers registered nine sacks as a team with him in the lineup in the first three games in '08, and just 18 more following his injury in Week 4. Green Bay's total of 27 sacks ranked 25th in the league and was tied for the fewest by a Packers' team (1990) in a 16-game season since the sack became an official NFL statistic in 1982.

Although it was only the preseason, the myriad ways the 3-4 can help cause pressure were on display as the Packers posted 13 takeaways (eight interceptions, five fumble recoveries) and 12 sacks in four games, with the No. 1 unit allowing just 13 points.

"The sky is the limit for this defense," Jenkins said. "We have set the foundation and showed what we can do. We've just got to go out there and make sure that we don't get complacent and feel like we are there.

"We still have to improve every week, and as long as we do that, I feel like we can be one of the best defenses in the league."

Their first chance to show that comes Sunday night. After spending close to a year anticipating his return, Jenkins will have to wait a few hours more than on a normal Sunday as the team awaits the evening showdown with the Bears.

"You know everybody is going to be watching," Jenkins said. "Your friends, family, the whole nation. It's just going to be a big buildup and you know by the time you play everybody is going to be watching that game. You get goose bumps probably a lot more for this one."

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