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Returns of Montgomery, Harrell Bolster D-Line


On the Green Bay Packers' defensive line, it's never about just one guy's performance.

But the efforts of end Michael Montgomery and tackle Justin Harrell on Sunday in Tennessee in their returns from injury are hopefully just a start for both players as they work to make the defensive line stronger as a whole.

Montgomery, who missed the previous two games with an ankle injury and who has been dogged by knee injuries at other times over the past three years, turned in probably the best game of his career against the Titans.

After reviewing the film, the coaching staff credited Montgomery with 15 total tackles, including 11 solo. That's not only the most by a defensive lineman this season, but the most in one game by any Green Bay defensive player in 2008.

Montgomery's day included a sack of Kerry Collins for a loss of 7 yards and two other tackles for no gain, one of them shared with linemate Ryan Pickett. He also dropped back into coverage on one play and leaped to deflect a pass headed toward tight end Alge Crumpler.

In short, Montgomery was incredibly active, taking advantage of single blocks and even ranging as far as the sideline to get in on plays. He played more than 50 snaps, second-most among linemen Sunday behind Aaron Kampman.

"The way the stat book (looked), that's how he played," defensive ends coach Carl Hairston said. "He played hard, he played physical, and I was glad to see him come back like that.

"He hustles to the ball and is a very aggressive player. He was slowed down by injury, and now he's pretty much back healthy. That's him. That's Mike's nature, and he's going to make a lot of plays like that."

On the sack, which came two plays after Pickett had sacked Collins and allowed the Packers to match the total sacks (two) the Titans had given up all season coming into the game, Montgomery beat the Tennessee lineman clean off the snap. The Packers' defensive alignment actually had Montgomery as an end but lined up over a guard, and he took advantage.

On the pass deflection, Montgomery showed the kind of versatility a player with a long body and long arms brings to the defense. The Packers rarely drop their defensive linemen off the ball and into coverage, but Montgomery at 6-foot-5 with a substantial wingspan, made it look almost natural.

"He's athletic and he's long. He's good in space," Hairston said. "We don't do it every down and we won't make it a steady diet, but we kind of surprise teams when we do it.

"We've got guys like him and Jeremy (Thompson), they're athletic with long arms. And Aaron. We've got some guys that are long and can make plays like that. The quarterback just has to throw it in the right spot."

If Montgomery can remain this productive, it should only mean good things for the rest of the defensive line. Kampman leads the team with six sacks but has been shut out in four of the last five games, having attracted considerable attention from opposing offenses.

"It will help free Aaron up some more, and it will help free up some other players," Hairston said of Montgomery's return to full health. "We need somebody on the other side to help out on that. It will be good to have him back and to do things like that."

It will also help to have Harrell on the interior on a regular basis again. Harrell, activated from the physically unable to perform list the day before the Tennessee game, saw his first game action since last January's playoffs and played a little more than a dozen snaps.

Head Coach Mike McCarthy said at this point Harrell looks to be stronger against the pass than against the run, which coincides with how he played last season in a total of nine games (seven regular season, two postseason) as a rookie.

Considering the Packers' best interior pass rusher - end Cullen Jenkins, who would shift inside on passing downs - is out for the season, Harrell's effectiveness in passing situations could be a huge plus for the defense in the second half of the season as he gets accustomed to more playing time.

"He does do a good job of pushing the pocket," defensive tackles coach Robert Nunn said. "He's a load when he comes off the ball and rushes the passer. I think he had four or five minuses as far as techniques on plays, but I would bet three of them would be on not playing fast, and that comes from not being out there."

{sportsad300}As far as his run defense, Harrell was 'OK' in his 2008 debut, according to the coaches. One of his four tackles (two solo) was a great play, reading a third-down draw and bringing down Titans running back Chris Johnson for a 1-yard loss to force a punt early in the fourth quarter.

But then in the overtime, Harrell failed to control his gap and it contributed to Johnson finding a hole up the middle for 14 yards on the drive that ended with the game-winning field goal.

That one play downgraded Harrell's outing significantly, because as Nunn said, "it was a pretty solid performance, other than that one, but you can't take that one out in this league."

Still, just getting Harrell back into the defensive tackle rotation with Pickett, Johnny Jolly and Colin Cole benefits the group, and hopefully those benefits will show up even more as the season rolls on.

"He has to continue to play fast in the run game and continue to build on what he's doing in the passing game," Nunn said. "Because he can push the pocket, he knocks those guards back, and he can come up big for us down the stretch here."

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