Kampman faces tough early test
GREEN BAY Aaron Kampman’s transition from defensive end to outside linebacker has been issue No. 1 in Green Bay’s training camp this year.
So far, Kampman’s coaches are saying all the right things, while Kampman himself has been oddly evasive about the topic, giving the impression he was making the switch somewhat reluctantly.
With Sunday night’s season opener against Chicago at Lambeau Field looming, all that talk won’t matter soon enough. Kampman’s results on the field will provide a much clearer picture of his ability to handle his new role.
Kampman says the transition is “coming along,” and says he has made good progress toward mastering a new skill set in the preseason.
“This position requires you to rush, requires you to play the run hard and also drop into coverage,” Kampman said. “I’ve tried to develop all three of those skills. Every game, I get more experience, find ways to tweak and learn and grow in it.”
There won’t be much room for error against the Bears, a team expected to feature a revved-up passing game led by new quarterback Jay Cutler. Chicago has one of the league’s better tight end tandems, Greg Olson and Desmond Clark, and Kampman almost certainly will be matched up with them at times.
It’s a tough first assignment in a challenging transition for Kampman, who had 37 sacks over the past three seasons and made the Pro Bowl in 2006 and 2007 as a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme.
In the 3-4, which relies heavily on unpredictability to generate pass rush pressure, Kampman sometimes will be asked to drop into coverage while another player blitzes. To preserve the element of surprise, Kampman will be standing up at the line of scrimmage instead of playing the way he’s used to: with his hand on the ground in a three-point stance.
While there have been questions about Kampman’s enthusiasm for the switch, nobody is questioning his work ethic.
“He’s made progress,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “He’s a conscientious guy. If there’s something that’s not quite right, he’s going to work to get it right.”
Toward that end, Capers made a point of having Kampman drop into coverage frequently during preseason games, figuring he already knows how to rush the passer, even if he’s now doing it out of a different stance.
“We’ve dropped him quite a bit in games,” Capers said. “You always want to try to get a look at guys in the areas that you feel they haven’t done a lot of.”
Kampman said he hasn’t dropped into coverage this much since playing for Iowa.
“I was a young man at that point,” Kampman said. “I’m still a young man, but I have a lot more football experience under my belt. Just knowing football, it’s helped me a great deal.”
Kampman, one of the Packers’ most outgoing players, was oddly silent after the team announced its switch to the 3-4 in the offseason. But Kampman dismissed speculation about any unhappiness.
“That was just kind of a blown-up deal,” Kampman said. “The reality is, a story needed to be written, and for whatever reason, it was focused on me. That whole situation was focused on one person, but there were 10 other guys making the transition.”
That said, Kampman is in the final year of his contract and isn’t ruling out anything.
“This is the only place I’ve been at in the NFL, but who knows?” Kampman said. “Who knows how things all pan out?”
It has been a tough offseason for Kampman. He was close to his high school coach, Aplington-Parkersburg’s Ed Thomas, who died in June after a former player allegedly walked into the high school weight room and shot him.
Kampman wasn’t able to attend Aplington-Parkersburg’s emotional first game of the season because the Packers were playing a preseason game in Arizona that night. But when Kampman returned a fumble for a touchdown against the Cardinals, his thoughts turned to Thomas; he hadn’t scored a touchdown since high school.
The incident has refreshed Kampman’s sense of perspective.
“Football’s what I do for my profession,” he said. “It’s not what validates or identifies me. So this is my profession. At the core of you, you don’t get too worked up.”
-- Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings was cleared to practice after sustaining a head injury during the team’s third preseason game. Jennings said he blacked out immediately after the hit and was woozy for about 20 minutes, but is ready to play.
“It was a very scary feeling,” Jennings said. “But once I started regaining what was going on, I was good.”
-- Quarterback Matt Flynn (shoulder) also returned to practice. Defensive lineman B.J. Raji (ankle), cornerback Will Blackmon (quadriceps), and running back Brandon Jackson (ankle) did not participate in the portion of practice open to the media Monday.
Bears’ Tillman may be ready
Cornerback Charles Tillman practiced for the first time after undergoing back surgery and hopes to be ready for the Chicago’s opener at Green Bay.
Whether he actually will play Sunday is a tossup.
“I don’t know,” Tillman said Monday. “Flip of the coin, we’re going to see.”
Coach Lovie Smith said it was too soon to say, but having Tillman back in practice was an important step and a big boost for a team that is counting on him after missing the playoffs the past two years. Chicago ranked 30th against the pass last season because of injuries and simply poor play on the line and in the secondary.
Tillman, however, had a strong year, finishing with 91 tackles and three interceptions while leading the team with four forced fumbles despite shoulder and back problems.
He had surgery on his right shoulder in January and participated in organized team activities on a limited basis. He then had back surgery in July, just before the start of training camp, and was sidelined throughout the preseason.