Packers’ defense gets younger, faster quick

By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
Green Bay’s offense adds G/C Jenkins, TE Sternberger as possible starters
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers entered free agency and the NFL draft with several clear objectives.

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First, GM Brian Gutekunst was determined to give defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s unit an infusion of youth and talent. That last year’s defense ranked as high as 18th still amazes.
Second, he was committed to upgrading the offensive line and the tight end position by adding players who could contribute immediately while being groomed as future starters.
Third, he sought players with mental toughness and an edge.
So how did Gutekunst fair in his second offseason?
Not too shabby.
A glance at the Packers’ unofficial depth chart reflects real potential for improvement on both sides of the football.
Gutekunst’s first eight acquisitions – four free agents and the first four draft picks – took aim at major needs.
Free agents Preston and Za’Darius Smith represent a pair of outside linebackers in their prime. They are rugged, seasoned veterans who are champing at the bit to win in Green Bay.
Top draft pick Rashan Gary will be a starter one day, but for now he will be asked to get after the quarterback in obvious passing situations. It’s an ideal situation for Gary, who spent his time at Michigan dealing with double- and triple-team blocks.
I’m curious to see what Gary can do in one-on-one matchups. If I’m right about Gary, a lot of so-called “draft experts” are going to have to eat their words.
At safety, another glaring position of need, Gutekunst added veteran Adrian Amos to anchor the defense’s back end. Then he traded up from the 30th pick to select Maryland safety Darnell Savage, Jr., with the 21st pick acquired from Seattle.
Amos and Savage are a major upgrade over Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Kentrell Brice and all the rest that lined up back there.
That’s five impact players on defense: Four starters and a key reserve (Gary) in one offseason.
The prevailing theory is Gutekunst did a great deal to overhaul the defense, but not nearly enough on offense.
I would disagree.
Two of the GM’s top eight moves beefed up the offensive line. Gutekunst signed Billy Turner in free agency to make an immediate impact. Turner, who has experience in Packers coach Matt LaFleur’s wide-zone scheme, should start at right guard.
Gutekunst also drafted Elgton Jenkins, an interior offensive lineman from Mississippi State, with the 44th pick. Jenkins started at center the past two seasons for the Bulldogs, but is going to begin at guard for Green Bay.
“We took him as a guard,” Packers’ college scout Charles Walls said. “But with a guy that size (6-4 ½ , 310), that athletic, you watch the tape and you feel comfortable putting him anywhere you need him to be. Definitely a light bulb goes off when a guy falls to you with that much value, that much versatility.”
The Packers believe Jenkins could play center, guard or tackle.
“When you watch him he’s got everything in his body (that you’d want),” Walls said. “When he wants to be dominant, wants to control guys, he can do it. And he does it on a consistent basis.”
According to Pro Football Focus, Jenkins yielded one sack in 762 pass-blocking snaps at center his final two seasons.
“I feel like I’m quick with my feet,” Jenkins said. “I can move people off the ball.”
The Packers’ offensive line, from left to right, projects to be: David Bakhtiari, Lane Taylor, Corey Linsley, Billy Turner and Bryan Bulaga. The competition will be fierce, however, with Jenkins and Cole Madison, a fifth-round pick last year, battling with Taylor for the left guard job.
Jace Sternberger, the tight end from Texas A&M, was the Packers’ third-round pick at 75 overall.
Sternberger, 6-4, 251, was well-traveled by the time he got to College Station, Texas. He originally signed with Kansas, left after two years, and eventually latched on with Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, where he caught Texas A&M’s eye.
Sternberger, who is reputed to be a strong route runner, was clocked at an underwhelming 4.75 in the 40-yard dash. However, the Packers clocked him at 4.66 and aren’t worried.
“He was a riser at Texas A&M,” said Jon-Eric Sullivan, the Packers’ co-director of player personnel. “He didn’t have much of a career at Kansas, moved on to junior college and kind of burst on the scene this year. (Packers scout) Charles Walls went through there, who is our area scout, did a lot of work on him, and did a really good job. And then I went through there myself, and we were very pleased with what we found.”
Sternberger caught 48 passes for 832 yards (17.3 yards per catch) and 10 touchdowns in 13 games.
“What better opportunity can you have,” Sternberger said of being drafted by Green Bay.
“As a young tight end, everybody’s mindset is you want to be the next big thing, and what better way to do it than with Marcedes (Lewis) and then Jimmy Graham – two guys who’ve had amazing careers in the NFL.”
Sternberger left A&M early for a reason.
“I have that big chip on my shoulder,” he said. “I mean, there’s a reason I left early – because I felt like I was the best tight end in this draft class.”
Clearly the Packers thought highly of him, too.
Kingsley Keke, a 6-4, 305-pound defensive lineman, was the team’s fifth-round pick out of A&M. Ka’dar Hollman, a 6-0, 190-pound cornerback from Toledo, joined Notre Dame running back Dexter Williams (5-11, 215) as the sixth-round picks.
In the seventh round, Green Bay selected inside linebacker Ty Summers (6-1, 241) from TCU.
Williams, the running back, is an intriguing pick.
In 2017, as a part-time player, he carried the ball 39 times for 360 yards (a 9.2 average) and four touchdowns. In 2018, he rushed 158 times for 995 yards (a 6.3 average) with 12 touchdowns. Williams’ 97-yard touchdown run against Virginia Tech last year ranks as the second-longest in school history.
Williams ran a 4.57 40-yard dash, but believes he is plenty fast to make big plays because “it’s different when people are chasing you.”
He believes he’s a perfect fit for LaFleur’s offense.
“To get in space – be able to make plays – I can see myself in the offense already and I can’t wait to get started,” he said.