Signings Provide Strong Glimpse at Pack's 2011 Defensive Corps

The Packers' deadline-beating signings of A.J. Hawk and Charlie Peprah shows they are committed to rewarding their players who perform well and that they have a strong, young nucleus on defense, with key pieces signed long-term.

It also means the end of the green and gold line for veterans like Cullen Jenkins, Nick Barnett and Atari Bigby. Brady Poppinga might be next.

Let's start with the defensive line. It begins with B.J. Raji who took a major step forward in his second season and, health permitting, will be a fixture on the line for years to come. Ryan Pickett is signed through 2013 and played well enough to ensure he will return.

Jenkins is an unrestricted free agent--beyond frustrated that the Packers let him twist in the wind while they did new deals with youngsters like Tramon Williams and Desmond Bishop. He was the Pack's second best pass rusher but has had a hard time staying healthy over the past few years and Thompson will let another team pay him big bucks, probably a 4-3 defense.

Thompson believes that between Mike Neal, C.J. Wilson, Howard Green and Jarius Wynn, along with the possible return of Johnny Jolly, that he can get by without Jenkins. He might even grab a d-lineman in the draft.

At linebacker, the Pack was decimated by injuries, losing inside guys Barnett and Chillar and outside guys Brad Jones and Poppinga to season-ending injuries. We all know that Bishop stepped in and was an instant upgrade over Barnett and won the job. Barnett's Super Bowl-week tweeting will help earn him his one way ticket out of town. In Hawk, Bishop and Chillar the Pack has plenty of money invested in inside linebackers.

Outside linebacker is not quite as settled. There are a lot of bodies returning: Jones, Poppinga, Walden and Zombo. But not an impact pass rusher opposite the Pack's rising star, Clay Matthews. With Jenkins' expected departure, the Pack is sure to consider an outside linebacker early in the draft, if a blue chip one is available.

At corner, the Pack is very solid three deep with Woodson, Williams and Shields. Expect them to add another in the draft, since Woodson could see a move to safety in the next year or two. They're set at safety, with Collins, Burnett, Peprah, Smith and Levine. That's a position I expect them to ignore in April.

One of the league's top defenses has its nucleus signed for the long-term. That's just one item on Thompson's to do list this offseason. Tweaking the offense and special teams are also priorities--ones we'll explore next week.


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