It wasn’t a drill, and that’s why it was the best kind of tackling practice. It was real.

Running back James Starks and cornerback Jarrett Bush met in a thunderous collision at the front-left corner of the end zone. Starks stepped just inside the pylon to score a touchdown in a red-zone drill in Monday morning’s practice. A split second later, Bush welcomed Starks to Week 2 of training camp with a smack that sent both men sprawling.

“I was already in the end zone. It was a surprise,” Starks said with a smile. “I got into the end zone. That’s all that matters.”

That’s not entirely true. On a Packers team with a terrible tackling problem last season, every smack and whack of training camp matters, and Starks would get whacked again later in practice, when linebacker A.J. Hawk and defensive lineman Phillip Merling clobbered Starks as he attempted to sweep left end at the 5-yard line.

“Today, the emphasis was on red zone. We had a lot of team reps today,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said.

You got that right, coach. A practice that was starting to push toward three hours under a biting morning sun was nothing if it wasn’t long and taxing.

The winner? It was the defense, because it didn’t lose. For the second consecutive full-pads practice, it appeared the Packers defense held its own against one of the best offenses in the NFL, and some would say that’s all that matters.

“We had the finesse part down; we lacked the physicality,” cornerback Davon House said of the 2011 Packers defense. “When the season rolls around, I don’t think tackling will be an issue at all.”

Those are very encouraging words, and the Packers defense has been very good with words through the first four practices of camp. Rookie defensive linemen Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels were the frisky ones through Saturday’s first full-pads practice. On Monday, veteran defensive linemen Anthony Hargrove and Daniel Muir did the honors. Hargrove was especially spirited.

Best of all, the defense backed up its talk.

House continued his red-hot spring and summer by intercepting a pass that was intended for undrafted wide receiver Dale Moss. As Moss pursued House during the latter’s return, Moss got whacked by defensive lineman Jarius Wynn.

There’s that word, again: Whack!

Later in the practice, House picked off a B.J. Coleman pass that was thrown behind the receiver. Only a few plays previous, Charles Woodson grabbed an Aaron Rodgers pass for what would’ve been a pick-six.

“The way you practice creates habits. Once you get into good practice habits, it carries over into the game,” safety Morgan Burnett said.

Even Packers General Manager Ted Thompson, a man not inclined to brag on himself or his team, spoke highly of the Packers defense, when Thompson met with reporters in his first press conference of training camp on Monday.

“I like the guys. I think we have quality depth and I think we have more pieces for (Defensive Coordinator) Dom (Capers) and his staff to work with. We’re just starting, but I like the group,” Thompson said.

“You’re always looking for more depth. I think we’ve got that. So far, I think it’s proving out.”

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