The Green Bay Packers' starting defensive tackles will have a youthful look during Sunday's regular season opener.
"We'll bring a lot enthusiasm and a lot of spirit," defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins said.
Either Jenkins or Corey Williams, both second-year players, will occupy seven-year veteran Cletidus Hunt's former spot on the interior alongside Grady Jackson. Head coach Mike Sherman has not announced the starters, but both Jenkins and Williams will receive repetitions at that position.
Jenkins, who attended Central Michigan University, started six games last year and brings more speed while Corey Williams weighs 313 pounds, 23 more than Jenkins, and holds up better against the run.
"Cullen Jenkins is quick, very explosive," defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila said. "He's quick enough he could even play on the outside."
Indeed the coaching staff tried the explosive 290-pounder at defensive end early in training camp. Then injuries to Hunt and Jackson forced Jenkins, who played on the interior during his rookie year, to move back inside.
"I bounce around wherever I'm needed," Jenkins said.
Williams also has versatility. He backed up Gbaja-Biamila and Aaron Kampman at defensive end on occasion last year but received most of his work at defensive tackle. Williams will play that position this year with 12 games of experience under his belt.
"I know a lot more techniques," he said. "The speed of the game is coming to me quicker than last year."
Williams has become a lot more comfortable with double teams, something that overwhelmed him in 2004, and has improved his leverage by maintaining a low pad level. To prevent offensive linemen from grabbing and holding him, he continues to hone his hand technique.
For advice on those fundamentals, Williams and Jenkins turn to Jackson, a nine-year veteran. The graybeard of a young interior line, he relies on lessons he learned from Russell Maryland as a fledgling defender with the Oakland Raiders in the late 1990s.
"I'm a leader and I have to show them by example and help on the field." Jackson said. "They're willing listeners."
Jackson taught rookie defensive end Michael Montgomery how to stay low, read the offensive linemen and use his hips to disengage off blocks.
Along with his tutelage, Jackson's physical presence will make the jobs easier for everyone on the defensive line. The 345-pounder often commands extra attention, leaving Jenkins or Williams in one-on-one situations.
"It's real good to look to the right and see a big ol' boy line up right beside me," Williams said.
Williams, unlike Jenkins, did not start any games in 2004. However, he enjoyed a coming out party against the Chicago Bears in the final regular season game. He recorded five tackles, including a sack that dropped Bears quarterback Chad Hutchinson for a six-yard loss.
That game may have served as the jumping-off point for Williams' career, but young defensive tackles can go through their share of growing pains. Williams' life experiences have prepared him for any adversity that could come his way.
At age 15, he lost his father. Five years later, his mother passed away and right before auditioning for NFL personnel at the scouting combine, the Arkansas State University prospect lost his infant daughter.
"It can't get worse than what I've already been through," he said. "It was a tough time in my life. I didn't let it get me down."
Williams now uses those setbacks as motivation, and that incentive helped him earn extensive playing time this season.
Jackson averaged about 60 plays-a-game last year, but the coaching staff will rotate their linemen more this year. Jackson expects to receive 30 to 35 this year.
"It will keep you more fresh in the fourth quarter," Jackson said.
With Jackson missing all but the last week of training camp with a knee injury, Jenkins and Williams received a lot of action, but defensive coordinator Jim Bates knows the regular season will serve as the barometer of their skills.
"I'm anxious to see them both play," he said. "They've done a nice job in preseason, but to evaluate anyone that's a younger player, you have to get into the season and see the real games, the 60-minute games, before you can make an assessment."
Quick Hits: Head coach Mike Sherman praised the players' performance during Friday's practice. "It was clean, crisp," he said. "Guys knew what they were supposed to do and they did it." ... Sherman on rookie linebacker Roy Manning: "He's really adapted quite well to everything we've thrown at him," he said. "He's done a fabulous job of grasping everything. I have confidence in Roy Manning." Either Manning or Robert Thomas will start at weakside linebacker against the Lions.