New Deal Behind Him, Jenkins Charges Ahead

If Cullen Jenkins were to turn to fellow defensive end Aaron Kampman for some tips on playing his relatively new position, he could count on some sage advice. But the best guidance Jenkins has received from Kampman may have come off the field, after Jenkins signed a new multi-year contract with Green Bay in the offseason. - More www.PackersTrainingCamp.com

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If Cullen Jenkins were to turn to fellow defensive end Aaron Kampman for some tips on playing his relatively new position, he could count on some sage advice.

But the best guidance Jenkins has received from Kampman may have come off the field, after Jenkins signed a new multi-year contract with Green Bay in the offseason.

Set to become an unrestricted free agent this past March, Jenkins was in line for a significant pay increase, and other teams surely would have inquired. His move from defensive tackle to defensive end for the final four games last season provided a spark to the defense - including a three-sack game from Jenkins against Detroit - and that unit's play fueled the four-game winning streak in December.

But Jenkins and the Packers never let it get that far, agreeing to a new deal the last week in February that benefited both sides. Jenkins, a solid family man with two children, wanted to stay in Green Bay. And the Packers, noting his rapid development from NFL Europe project in 2004 to defensive starter in 2006, were glad they could keep him around.

But for a non-drafted player accustomed to worrying about and playing for his next one-year deal, having long-term job and financial security was a foreign concept. The expectations from the team and the fans would be different, and Jenkins didn't want to let anybody down.

So it made perfect sense to chat with Kampman, not only because he starts on the other end of the defensive line, but also because Kampman successfully navigated that same tricky path in 2006. Entering the season with a new contract, Kampman responded to the heightened scrutiny with a career year, leading the NFC in sacks with 15 1/2 and going to his first Pro Bowl.

What Kampman, always known as a high-effort player like Jenkins, shared was far more simple than prophetic. In short, he told Jenkins to let the freedom from the "business" distractions help him enjoy the game even more.

"Even though you don't want the business side of football to affect your play, even when you're in a contract year, it still stays in the back of your mind, even though you're best to let it not," Kampman said. "So I just shared with him that even though that's not there anymore as any type of motivating factor, you really get a chance to play for the game, because you love it. The business stuff isn't there and you can just focus on football, and it's a good situation."

If the first two weeks of training camp are any indication, Jenkins is loving the game like never before. He's been a beast for any offensive lineman to try to block during the one-on-one pass rushing drills, and he's shining during team drills when the lights are brightest.

Two of his touch-sacks on the red-jerseyed quarterbacks during training camp have come during the two-minute drill at the historic City Stadium practice and during the Family Night scrimmage at Lambeau Field last Saturday.

"My mindset with the contract is I've worked harder in the offseason than I have (before)," Jenkins said. "It's kind of a relief, and I just get to relax and go play, and now I'm starting to do that."

{sportsad300}Jenkins will be playing plenty in 2007, perhaps as much as Kampman, who was on the field for 93 percent of the defensive snaps last season. Jenkins will start at defensive end on early downs and then likely move to tackle in obvious passing situations, when his inside rush skills can be utilized while Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila applies pressure from the outside.

Defensive ends coach Carl Hairston said what allows Jenkins to be successful in either spot is his incredibly thick and strong lower body. Hairston compared Jenkins' lower-body build to that of Reggie White, and it's the powerful legs that give Jenkins the rare combination of explosion and leverage that make him an impact player against the run and the pass.

Head Coach Mike McCarthy called Jenkins "a force in normal down-and-distance situations" in camp thus far, and Hairston agrees.

"Just how he's playing the run -- nobody drives him out of the hole," Hairston said. "Tackles never push him out, and that's what we need at the point of attack.

"We don't need the defense to be stretched, we need the defense to be constricted, and he's done a good job of pushing the holes tighter, and that makes it harder for the running back to make his cuts and his reads."

Rushing the passer as a defensive end as opposed to a tackle has been the biggest adjustment for Jenkins because there's more space to maneuver in, and account for. But Hairston said that transition will smooth out in the preseason games.

"He's getting more used to that big open space," Hairston said. "He has to be more contain-conscious at end than he has to be at tackle, so he's getting that down.

"He just needs to stay the course and continue to elevate himself at that position."

In the process he'll only continue to elevate his value to the defense and the team, following in the footsteps of his Pro Bowl linemate.

"He's come in and isn't sitting on his laurels by any means," Kampman said. "He's trying to continue to get better, and he takes the fact that the organization made a commitment to him with a lot of responsibility, and that's a lot of what we talked about.

"I've noticed he learns and has accepted the fact he has more of a leadership role. He knows he's going to be a full-time starter this year, and he has another year of experience under his belt. All those things together impact a guy to let him know we're counting on you."

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