Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Packers' Kampman gives quarterbacks a hands-on experience

The Vikings hit the jackpot by signing former Packers Darren Sharper and Ryan Longwell, but the one they couldn't reel in is now the NFL's sack leader.

November 8, 2006
By Mark Craig

GREEN BAY, WIS. - Life isn't getting any easier for Vikings right tackle Marcus Johnson.

After struggling against some of the NFL's elite left defensive ends during the first half of the season, Johnson opens the second half Sunday at the Metrodome against Green Bay's Aaron Kampman, the league's sack leader (9.5) and possibly its hottest defensive player now that San Diego's Shawne Merriman is serving his drug suspension.

"We won't do the whole game plan around that matchup, but it is key because of the impact that Aaron has made this season," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "His sacks have been huge for us."

Kampman has had at least a half-sack in each of the past five games, two short of Tony Bennett's team record set in 1992, and the longest by a Packer since 2000.

"Marcus will have his hands full," Vikings coach Brad Childress said, "but a lot of people have their hands full with that guy."

Just ask New Orleans, which gave up three sacks to Kampman in Week 2. It was his second three-sack effort in nine games, matching his career high set against the Vikings at Lambeau Field last Nov. 21.

"I think they were all pretty much outside rushes, one-on-one," said Kampman, referring to that Vikings game. "They started [Mike] Rosenthal and I think I had two. Then they brought in Johnson and I had one."

Johnson has started every game at right tackle this season. While Kampman was sacking Saints quarterback Drew Brees three times back in Week 2, Johnson was being beaten for three sacks by Carolina's Julius Peppers.

"We'll see what happens," Kampman said of the matchup. "Marcus is a guy who has some talent and ability but, yeah, at times this year, like anyone, he has had his problems."

A fifth-round pick of the Packers in 2002, Kampman was a nondescript player for the most part when the Vikings signed him to a restricted free agent offer sheet following the 2004 season. He was coming off a 4½-sack season, and teams weren't exactly bullrushing him with pens and offer sheets.

"I put my signature on the offer sheet, so, yeah, I thought there was a chance I'd end up as a Minnesota Viking," Kampman said. "I also thought the Packers would match, but you never know. I'm glad I'm still here."

The Packers aren't shy about letting star players flee to Minnesota (see: Darren Sharper and Ryan Longwell). But they refused to lose a budding young defensive linemen.

Kampman came back in 2005 with a then-career-high 6 ½ sacks, prompting the Packers to sign him before he even had a chance to test unrestricted free agency this past offseason. So now he's the Vikings' problem twice a year through 2009.

"Kampman has always been an Energizer bunny-type of guy," Childress said. "He's constant motion. High, high motor. Just [when] you think you've got him where you want him, he's going somewhere else."

A Packer never has led the league in sacks for a full season since they became an official statistic in 1982. Even the late Hall of Famer Reggie White's best total as a Packer (16 in 1998) wasn't quite enough.

Eight seasons later, at the same left end spot that White played so brilliantly, another Packer is making life miserable for quarterbacks and right tackles who try to defend them.

"You want to see all of your guys do well, but Aaron really deserves this," McCarthy said. "He works his butt off. Studies film. He's a wonderful human being. A great family man. And he's a heck of a player."

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