With the Packers a little thinner at defensive tackle than they have been in recent years, starting defensive end Cullen Jenkins' versatility likely will prove more valuable than ever in 2008.
The season certainly started that way Monday night, with Jenkins playing a hefty percentage of the defensive snaps, handling right end on run downs and then shifting inside on passing downs when Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila came in to rush the passer from the edge.
Statistically, there was nothing eye-popping about Jenkins' performance, as he recorded two solo tackles and two quarterback hits. But his contributions in plugging holes against the run and helping with stunts on the pass rush didn't go unnoticed, as Head Coach Mike McCarthy said on Wednesday that Jenkins would be getting a game ball from Monday night.
For Jenkins personally, it was an important outing because he played so much of last season with a variety of nagging injuries. After signing his first multi-year contract in the offseason, he began the 2007 training camp and preseason as a dominant force, but that player was never really on the field in the regular season because Jenkins was always banged up.
"With me coming off the injuries from last year and not playing the way I wanted to play, I thought it was key for me to come out and make a name for myself early and show people what I could do when I'm healthy," Jenkins said.
Jenkins knows that because he moves to the interior on passing downs, he's not likely to rack up the sacks that will garner a lot of attention. But he knows as well as anyone how sacks are a team effort.
On Aaron Kampman's first-quarter sack of Tarvaris Jackson on Monday, Jenkins and Kampman ran a stunt with Kampman looping around from his end position to rush up the middle, and there was an open lane to the quarterback waiting for him.
"Coach designed a great play, and I was one of the key factors in it as far as shooting up field and taking the blockers with me," Jenkins said. "Stuff like that, you may not get stats for it, but it makes you feel real good when it works out."
As both an end and tackle, Jenkins also knows the value of generating a pass rush in the quarterback's face, which will be his assignment most often on third down.
"When I go inside, that push up the middle is real important," he said. "I know from playing end if you don't get that push up the middle, the quarterback can step up easily. I like to be inside, I can help out the other guys."
Receiver James Jones, who had been out since spraining his knee in the third preseason game at Denver, returned to the practice field for full participation on Wednesday and is expected to play this week.
Jones admitted it was difficult to sit out the season opener, especially with it being such a big game on Monday night against a divisional rival. But he said the extra rest certainly did him some good.
"It was very difficult, because I never missed a game in my career - Pop Warner, high school, college and now pro," Jones said. "To miss that game definitely hurt, but I'm glad we came out on top, got the victory, and I was able to rest a couple more days, and hopefully I get out there and I'm 100 percent on Sunday."
Jones practiced without the knee brace he has been wearing the past two weeks, and he said he wouldn't wear the brace in a game. He wouldn't declare himself completely over the mental hurdle of coming back from the injury, but he's going to do whatever it takes to play.
"I definitely can't forget about it yet," he said. "I keep thinking if I make this move or make that move, it's going to hurt. So I definitely have to just play and forget about it and see how it goes and if it hurts, it hurts, but just work on through it."
Jones' availability may be a necessity if fellow receiver Ruvell Martin is held out. Martin aggravated a fractured finger he has been practicing and playing with since the Denver game, and at practice on Wednesday, he was wearing a large wrap on his entire hand that forced him to catch passes one-handed during the jog-through. The injured finger is the ring finger on his left hand.
"It's been getting worse, and it hasn't been getting any better," said Martin, who caught one pass for 13 yards against the Vikings. "I think it was a little overkill with the deal that I had on today, but it was just to make sure that it doesn't get hit, because every time it gets hit, it gets worse."
Martin, who was listed as a limited participant on the injury report, said he has to see how the rest of the week plays out before he'll hear from the medical staff about his playing status.
In addition to Jones, safety Charlie Peprah (hamstring) was a full participant in practice and could be available for his first game action this season.
Others like Martin who were limited include safety Atari Bigby (bicep), tackle Chad Clifton (knees), Gbaja-Biamila (knee) and running back Ryan Grant (hamstring). McCarthy said Grant would be held out of practice on Thursday also, with the hope he could go Friday and be ready to play.
Running back Brandon Jackson (concussion), center Scott Wells (back) and cornerback Charles Woodson (toe) did not participate in practice. McCarthy revealed Woodson has a toe fracture but given his history of playing through injuries, McCarthy expressed confidence he would play.
Guard Josh Sitton (knee) has been ruled out for the second straight week.
For Detroit, starting linebackers Paris Lenon (knee) and Ernie Sims (ankle) were limited in practice on Wednesday.
Return man Will Blackmon has never lacked for confidence, and he's just as strong a believer in the punt return unit as in his own abilities. Dating back to last year, Blackmon now has two punt returns for touchdowns in his last five games.
"I feel and believe that Coach (Mike) Stock and Coach (Shawn) Slocum have put together a great package for us to have an opportunity every time I touch the ball," Blackmon said. "To have them put together a great plan, to have the 10 guys in front of me just as hungry as I am, I feel like we could bust one every single time.
"My main thing is if I catch the ball, I have a chance."
Speaking of punt returns, the Packers' new punter, Derrick Frost, will be kicking to a familiar face on Sunday. Detroit punt returner Mike Furrey is a former college teammate of Frost's from Northern Iowa. The two played one season together with the Panthers, in 1999.
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