Jenkins is back for the Packers
Well on his way to establishing an identity separate from his big brother, Pro Bowl pass rusher Kris, Jenkins tore a pectoral muscle in Week 4. He missed the remainder of the season, and the Green Bay Packers missed him dearly.
With the Packers’ season opener against Chicago at Lambeau Field looming Sunday night, Jenkins is back, healthy and ready to resume his role as a disruptive force on the defensive line.
“It’s been a long time,” Jenkins said. “I’ve never been on IR before, I’ve never missed that many games. Just anxious—anxious to get back out there and try to pick up where I left off.”
Jenkins’ return could provide a big boost for the Packers, who consider him one of the best players on a roster that includes plenty of recognizable names.
“Cullen Jenkins is a disruptive player,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “He’s done it for us both inside and outside. I think he’s an every-down player that I’ve always felt is one of the better players on our football team. His health is important to the success of our defensive line.”
As tough as the injury was to take for a player who had missed only two games in his first four NFL seasons after going undrafted out of Central Michigan and working his way up from the now-defunct NFL Europe, Jenkins said it seemed even worse to see his teammates struggling without him.
The Packers’ defense had nine sacks in the first three games, and Jenkins was in on 2½ of them. Then Jenkins was injured in the fourth quarter against Tampa Bay—and Green Bay’s defense had only 18 sacks the rest of the season.
Their season sack total of 27 was 25th in the league.
“It’s tough to watch,” Jenkins said. “You want the team to win, and there’s nothing you can do to help. Especially when you hear people talk about the pressure, or lack thereof, that’s something that I was really relied upon to do. And you kind of feel bad that you’re not able to get out there and help out. But it’s gone now, I’m back up now, and just got to make sure that they can rely on me to do it now.”
And rely on him to make a significant position switch.
In his first four seasons with the Packers, Jenkins proved he could play both defensive tackle and defensive end in the team’s 4-3 defensive alignment.
Now the Packers have switched to a 3-4 look under new defensive coordinator Dom Capers. Jenkins is likely to play defensive end on a three-man line in the new base defense, then work as one of only two down linemen in the Packers’ nickel package.
If everything goes according to plan, he’ll be on the field almost all the time. But will he still be able to make big plays?
“That’s definitely the plan,” Jenkins said. “You can’t predict what’s going to happen, but I don’t feel like there’s any difference from last year.”
Defensive ends in a 3-4 generally do the dirty work of holding up offensive linemen, leaving much of the glory to outside linebackers and other blitzing defenders. Jenkins believes he’ll still stand out on the field, though he had reservations when the team first announced it was switching to the 3-4.
“Any time you change something, you’re going to have that thought process where you’re like, ‘How is this going to work? How am I going to fit? What are the coaches going to expect of me?,”‘ Jenkins said. “We came in, got everything ironed out and now everybody feels good.”
Aaron Kampman, who is making the switch from defensive end to outside linebacker, still expects Jenkins to attract attention on the field.
“In the end, the job descriptions have changed for all of us,” Kampman said. “But we’re still going to get after the quarterback.”
Considering all the changes they went through, the Packers’ first-string defense was surprisingly solid in the preseason. And Jenkins believes they’re for real.
“A lot of us, this is our first time playing in a 3-4,” Jenkins said. “You know, it came as a little bit of a surprise back in the winter. But being in it now, everybody’s getting comfortable. We’ve seen what we can do as a team. I think everybody’s excited and expecting good things.”
-- DL B.J. Raji (ankle) did not practice Wednesday and McCarthy said a test of his injury “did not go as well as we would have hoped.” Johnny Jolly would be the team’s backup nose tackle.
-- RB Brandon Jackson (ankle) and CB Will Blackmon (quadriceps) also did not practice Wednesday. Should Blackmon not play Sunday, McCarthy said CB Tramon Williams, WR Jordy Nelson or CB Charles Woodson could return punts.
-- McCarthy remained coy about how much LB Nick Barnett, who is coming off knee surgery, will play Sunday. “I just think you have to be smart with how much you play players coming off a major injury,” McCarthy said. “That’s something that will factor into our planning.”