If healthy, Jenkins could power Packers' defense
That's a pretty strong statement to make — especially when it's made by Packers coach Mike McCarthy.
"Cullen Jenkins is a difference-maker," McCarthy said Sunday. "You could make a point, or an argument, that Cullen Jenkins may be the best or one of the best players on our football team. He's an impact player when he's in there. He's had some injuries that he's had to fight through. We're definitely a different defensive line, a different defense when he plays."
Nationally, Jenkins might best be known as the little brother of the New York Jets' Kris Jenkins. But in Green Bay, he's seen as something of a secret weapon.
Jenkins got off to a stellar start last season, posting 18 tackles and 2 1/2 sacks in the first four games. But he tore a pectoral muscle in the Packers' Week 4 game against Tampa Bay and had to have surgery, forcing him to miss the last 12 games of last season.
"If he got to play a whole season, people would have come around and realized (his success)," Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "It was a shame how it happened. But the good thing is, he's back here for another season and it looks like he feels good now."
Other injuries mounted after that, the defense fell apart and Green Bay finished a disappointing 6-10.
Now the Packers are counting heavily on a fully recovered Jenkins to lead its defensive resurgence under a new defensive coordinator, Dom Capers, and a new 3-4 alignment.
Jenkins is still learning the new defense and the techniques it will require him to master. But he is confident that he'll again stand out when the games start to count.
"I think I can make a big difference," Jenkins said. "I feel like I can be a disruptor on the field. I can hold gaps, hold blocks, make it easier for teammates. I just feel like there's a lot of different things I can do from different places on the field, and it's just a matter of staying healthy and getting my body back in the condition I need it to be in."
Jenkins certainly stood out in the Packers' first training camp practice Saturday, frequently getting into the offensive backfield during team drills and, at one point, showing off a nimble spin move during an individual drill.
Jenkins sat out Sunday morning's practice, but was expected to be back Sunday night as Packers coaches keep a handful of players returning from major injuries from participating in both ends of two-a-days.
Jenkins says his repaired pectoral muscle is fully recovered — he actually worries more about an ankle injury that nagged him two years ago.
"The ankle has always been more of a concern because you don't want to pound it too much and you're just worried about making sure that bruise in there doesn't act up again," Jenkins said. "I think the pec is fine. The only problem I can see mentally with the pec, is maybe once it gets to (making tackles) and you have to go through that grabbing (opposing players). We'll see."
Jenkins opened Saturday's practice as a defensive end in the Packers' base defense. He also could stay on the field to play tackle in passing situations when the team substitutes an extra defensive back for a defensive lineman.
"He's a good football player," Packers linebacker Aaron Kampman said. "We take good football players. Cullen would obviously classify himself as one of those, and I would classify him as one of those. So whether it's as a 3-4 end, or a four-down defensive tackle, or whatever he's going to be, he's going to help us."
Hawk said Jenkins' versatility is among his greatest strengths.
"If you watched him play last year, until he got hurt he was having an unbelievable year. Everyone knows that," Hawk said. "And especially in this defense, I think he can really do well, and he's bought into it. He knows how to do his job. He's one of those rare guys that is stout, can play the run game unbelievably, but then he's also a great pass rusher."
After his start to last season, Jenkins understands how much is expected of him.
"I'm definitely going into the season trying to build off of that," Jenkins said. "I'm trying to learn from the injury, but at the same time, I'm trying to pretend that it didn't happen and trying to build from where I was earlier."