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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Kampman hitting his stride



November 2, 2006

By JASON WILDE

With 8 1/2 sacks through seven games -- tied for the NFL lead with suspended San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman -- Aaron Kampman goes into the Green Bay Packers' final nine games with a target number in mind for his season-ending total.

But as the Packers' defensive end stood at his locker Wednesday afternoon, he wasn't sharing that statistical goal with anyone. There's only one person he's shared that number with.

"My wife," he said.

But while Linde Kampman keeps that number a secret, the secret's out about her husband, who could wind up in his first Pro Bowl if he keeps up his pace. He enters Sunday's game at Buffalo on track for 19 1/2 sacks on the year, which would tie Tim Harris' official team record set in 1989. Ezra Johnson had 20 1/2 sacks in 1978, four years before the NFL officially began recognizing the sack stat.

"I think he's an outstanding player," Bills coach Dick Jauron said. "He's clearly talented. I don't know what kind of a practice player he is, but my guess is he is a very hard practicer, a guy who prepares extremely well because he plays so hard on Sundays. And, he has a lot of energy. Coupled with the skills that he has, it makes for a great football player."

Kampman should have a chance to increase his numbers on Sunday against the Bills, who rejiggered their offensive line during the bye week. By moving Jason Peters from right to left tackle and Mike Gandy from left tackle to left guard, they'll start rookie seventh-round pick Terrance Pennington at right tackle, opposite Kampman.

It's the second straight week the Packers have faced a revamped offensive line. Kampman earned NFC defensive player of the week honors by posting two sacks, eight tackles and three quarterback pressures in last Sunday's 31-14 victory over the Arizona Cardinals at Lambeau Field.

Asked if he'll have to give Pennington plenty of help in his first NFL start, Jauron said he will.

"Terrence is getting his baptism in this game as a starter in the National Football League," Jauron said. "We'll leave him alone at times, but we'd like to give him as much help as we possibly can."

He'll need it. Kampman has elevated his game since signing a four-year, $21million deal in March that included an astonishing $12million in guaranteed bonus money.

"He has a big heart, plays with a lot of energy," said coach Mike McCarthy, who said he and his coaches have talked about moving Kampman around on the line but thus far haven't done so. "It's great to see guys like Aaron Kampman have success."

And why is he having that success? In part, it's because he hasn't changed his approach. Even with Pennington's inexperience, Kampman won't take anything for granted. On Wednesday, he was searching for film of Pennington to watch to prepare for him.

"I think you always respect your opponent but you never fear him," Kampman said. "He hasn't played yet, so I don't know what to expect. I'm actually going to try to find some film from the preseason. I know his height and his weight -- and that's about it."

Speaking of weight, that could be the other part of Kampman's success. Listed at 278 pounds by the team, Kampman admitted that he played in the "low 270s" last year and is in the "260s" this year. With the weight loss, Kampman has remained stout against the run (a defensive-line best 38 tackles) but has shown better quickness getting to the quarterback.

"It's a planned thing," Kampman said of playing at a lighter weight. "The way we play our defense and the way we go about stuff, it's a good thing."

Still, while his name appears atop the sack listings, there seems to be little attention being paid to Kampman. But that could change, especially if he hits his and Linde's secret sack number.

"I've always kind of flown under the radar," Kampman said, referring to his fifth-round draft status and that he wasn't invited to the NFL scouting combine coming out of Iowa in 2002. "But we're only halfway through, and it'd be really great if that can continue all the way through (the season). Right now, it's kind of like a racehorse -- you keep the blinders on a little bit, keep your eyes focused on what's ahead of you and not let the other stuff distract you."

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