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The Bounce-Back Pack: Six Players Looking To Rebound In '09


Clockwise from top left: DE Cullen Jenkins, S Atari Bigby, LB Nick Barnett, K Mason Crosby, WR James Jones & C Scott Wells

Coming off a 6-10 season in 2008, the entire Green Bay Packers team is looking to bounce back to its winning ways in 2009.

But within that collective effort, several individuals will be striving to rebound from their own personal disappointments of last year, some injury-related, some otherwise.

As training camp approaches, here's a look at a half-dozen players looking for a bounce-back season whose work could go a long way toward the team turning things around as well.

DE Cullen Jenkins

Off to the best start of his career in 2008 with 18 tackles and 2 1/2 sacks in the first four games, Jenkins was playing as well as anyone on the entire defense when he was lost for the season to a torn pectoral muscle in Week 4 at Tampa Bay.

Among all the injuries suffered on defense last year, Jenkins became the toughest to replace. The Packers missed his stoutness against the run and his ability to pressure the passer from both inside and outside rushing positions.

As a defensive lineman with versatility and experience playing both end and tackle, he seems as good a fit as possible at end in the new 3-4 defensive scheme. Having missed 12 games and a good portion of the offseason work recovering from a procedure on his troublesome ankle, Jenkins should be raring to go in 2009.

S Atari Bigby

After a strong finish over the final month of the 2007 regular season and through the playoffs, Bigby seemed in line for a big year in 2008. But an ankle injury from the preseason followed by a hamstring injury in Week 2 at Detroit left him looking nothing like the same player.

Limited to just seven games, Bigby had just one interception (in the season opener) and posted only 31 tackles, barely more than one-fourth of his 2007 total of 121. A shoulder injury in Week 13 vs. Carolina ultimately landed him on injured reserve and ended his year.

With the addition of free agent Anthony Smith, the return of Pro Bowler Nick Collins, and the continued growth of Aaron Rouse and Charlie Peprah, the Packers have more depth at safety than they've had in Bigby's first four years with the team.

If a healthy Bigby can hold onto his starting job, he will have earned it, and that could mean good things for Bigby and the Packers defense.

LB Nick Barnett

Lost for the season after nine games due to a torn ACL, Barnett is coming back from reconstructive knee surgery and is expected to be able to practice at the start of training camp, though possibly on a limited basis. But he's also coming back from what for him was a sub-par season statistically before he got hurt.

In nine games last season, Barnett didn't have a single sack, interception or fumble recovery, impact-play categories in which he had compiled career totals of 111/2, nine and seven, respectively, in the first five years of his career. He also had just one forced fumble last year.

Despite his knee injury, Barnett was on the field during the jog-through portions of OTA and mini-camp practices to learn his inside linebacker spot in the 3-4. What the new scheme does for his playmaking ability remains to be seen, but for a player who missed only two games in his career prior to last year, Barnett will be out to show 2008 was not the real him in several respects.

C Scott Wells

A warrior who started 49 straight games in college and who missed only two games - due to a freak poke in the eye and a sinus infection - in his first two seasons as the starting center, Wells had an aggravating 2008 as far as his health is concerned. And it has put his starting spot in jeopardy in 2009.

A back/trunk injury in the preseason last year forced Wells to miss the first three games, and though he didn't miss any more starts, he had a chest injury that limited him in practice at midseason. Then he left two games early with a concussion (Week 13) and ankle injury (Week 17), and followed that up with shoulder surgery in the offseason, forcing him to miss all the on-field spring workouts.

Now the sixth-year veteran, who has played in 59 games over the last four years, will be fighting for the starting nod with fourth-year pro Jason Spitz. Wells signed a five-year contract extension midway through the 2006 season, and you can bet he has every intention of playing it out in Green Bay.

WR James Jones

Never injured throughout his football career at any level, Jones sprained a knee in the preseason last year and hardly resembled the receiver who caught 47 passes for 676 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie in 2007.

{sportsad300}In and out of the lineup all season due to flare-ups with his knee, Jones played sparingly in 10 games and caught just 20 passes last year. He began to resemble the old James Jones in the final month of the season, catching four passes for a career-high 132 yards in Week 15 at Jacksonville, and that's the kind of production he'll be striving for in what should be an intriguing battle for the No. 3 receiver spot with second-year pro Jordy Nelson.

As much promise as Nelson showed as a rookie last year (33 catches, 366 yards, 2 TDs), if Jones is able to legitimately beat him out, the Packers could have depth in the receiving corps unmatched in the NFC North if not the entire conference.

K Mason Crosby

Crosby's sophomore campaign was by no means a disappointment overall. But he failed to improve on his 79.5-percent field-goal accuracy from 2007, hitting 79.4 percent (24-of-34), and he didn't come through in the two potential game-winning opportunities he had, both in the final half-minute of division games on the road.

His 52-yard try at Minnesota was just wide right, resulting in a one-point loss, and his 38-yarder at Chicago was blocked, leading to an overtime defeat. Those were Crosby's only game-winning opportunities since his first game as a pro, against Philadelphia in Week 1 of 2007, when he drilled a 42-yarder in the closing seconds of a tie game.

In an era when kickers are regularly above 80 percent, and seemingly more and more games come down to field goals at the end, the Packers need Crosby to be better than he was a year ago, and he knows it.

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