Scheme, Hard Work Turn Lenon Into Preseason Star

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Informed of his ranking as the team's leader in tackles and passes defended during the preseason, linebacker Paris Lenon responded with a quizzical look.

"Really?" He said. "I didn't know that."

Perhaps Lenon has posted 18 tackles and four passes defended (the latter tied with safety Nick Collins for the lead) because he has focused more on learning a role he loves in the Packers' new defense than his numbers.

"It's fast and physical," he said. "It's definitely a fun defense to play in. You get to fly around the field."

In that aggressive scheme, big-bodied defensive tackles like Grady Jackson primarily occupy blockers, leaving athletic linebackers free to roam from sideline-to-sideline. Defensive coordinator Jim Bates wants his linebackers to make quick pre-snap reads, determining what the offensive players will be doing based on their formation.

As much as Lenon likes the defense, his exact role remains up in the air. He has played middle, strongside and weakside linebacker positions during the preseason.

Some players might have trouble learning multiple positions in a new defense. But for Lenon, understanding what each linebacker does on a given play helps him comprehend the defense's objective during each series.

"I kind of see it as a puzzle," he said. "Once I incorporate all the pieces of the puzzle, it all makes sense to me."

Lenon could serve as a valuable piece to the Packers' defense this year. The team released Ray Thompson, who signed as a free agent during the offseason and many observers projected as a starter.

Jettisoning Thompson could pave the way Lenon to start at outside linebacker.

"He's had a fine camp," general manager Ted Thompson said. "He's a very consistent player."

Lenon displayed his pass coverage skills against the Tennessee Titans. Starting in place of injured Na'il Diggs at strongside linebacker, he made plays downfield, breaking up Steve McNair passes intended for fullback Troy Fleming and tight end Greg Guenther in the first quarter.

He can attribute much of his preseason success to offseason conditioning. Even after team organized activities finished in June, Lenon stayed in Green Bay to work out on his own. His only break was a short vacation to visit his family in Lynchburg, Va.

"I can't really remember taking a day off," he said.

Lenon has grown accustomed to hard work. He fought through five pro teams in three different leagues to land a spot in the NFL.

After the Carolina Panthers cut the undrafted free agent in 2000, he worked for the U.S. Postal Service. In 2001 Lenon played for the Memphis Maniax of the now-defunct XFL. The Packers signed him after that stint but released him during training camp. The Seattle Seahawks did the same one month later. The Packers signed him to the practice squad during the last few weeks of the 2001 season and allocated him to NFL Europe in the offseason where Lenon led the Amsterdam Admirals in tackles.

In 2002 he entered Packers training camp listed last on the Packers depth chart but beat out his veteran competition to make the opening day roster.

After traveling along that journey, one can understand why gaudy statistics mean so little to Paris Lenon.

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