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Tackles Closer To Return


Many of the deficiencies in the Packers run defense over the early portion of the season can be traced back to a pair of injuries suffered in the team's first two games of the year.

The Pack lost a pair of 320-pound-plus nose tackles, Grady Jackson and James Lee, to knee injuries in successive weeks at the outset of the campaign, and prior to Sunday's impressive showing at Detroit, the hole left in the middle of the defensive line had been exploited by a series of opponents.

Monday brought a bit of good news to the defensive front, as both Jackson and Lee said they will be returning to practice later this week, although their return to game activity is still uncertain.

Lee has been rehabbing hard and hopes to have the clearance of the team's medical staff to return to the practice field Wednesday.

"Strength-wise, everything's OK," said the second-year defensive lineman. "I've gotten the thumbs up from the trainers and I'm just ready to get out there and playing again.

"I'm close - I hope to be practicing on Wednesday. It's their decision if I'm going to be playing on Sunday or not, so I've pretty much got to keep working hard and let them know that I'm ready."

Lee, who had all of his rookie season wiped out by a back injury suffered in 2003's training camp, has been putting in long hours readying himself to return to action. He injured his knee early in his first career start in week two against Chicago, but played the remainder of the game before undergoing surgery to repair cartilage a few days later.

"I had finally gotten started and this just popped up," Lee said of being injured in his second regular season game. "I rehabbed like a madman to get back out here as soon as possible."

Jackson, the starter at the nose tackle position who shored up the team's run defense when he was claimed on waivers in the middle of the 2003 season, is also eager to return to work with his teammates. The big man who fills the middle of the defense was knocked out in the first quarter of the season opener at Carolina.

"I'm going to practice Wednesday, get in a little hitting, just to get the feel of it and go from there," Jackson said. "I'll have a brace and tape it up Wednesday, just to try it out a little bit. I'll wear the brace for the rest of the season."

One man who will be particularly happy to see the return of one or both of the missing tackles will be fellow defensive Cletidus Hunt. Hunt started each of the first two games of the year alongside Jackson and then Lee, but in their absence has been forced to make the switch from his usual three-technique tackle position to lining up at nose tackle.

Both of the injured players said Monday that they have been impressed by Hunt's adjustment to the different position.

"Hunt's done a good job," said Lee. "The two big guys have been out of the lineup for a few weeks and he's been there and he's stepped up."

Jackson acknowledged that Hunt has been prodding him back into the lineup, if only to hasten his return to his preferred spot on the line.

"Cletidus has done a good job playing nose tackle," Jackson said. "Just by talking to him, he's like, 'Hurry up back'."

While the players would obviously love to be back on the field mixing it up in the trenches, GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman knows that he can't afford to bring either one of them back too soon and lose them to another injury.

He's optimistic that they can return to the lineup soon, but won't know how soon until he seems them back on the practice field.

"They're pushing hard," Sherman said Monday. "You really can't tell until they have some contact and banging against some big bodies and then see how they are the next day. That's really what we have to test them with this week."

Needless to say, everyone in Packer camp is pulling for a swift return of these players to restore the defensive line back to full strength.

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