Thursday, June 11, 2009

In Dom We Trust

by Al Bracco

In Dom We Trust — do we have any other choice?

Dom Capers was hired by Mike McCarthy to restore the Green Bay Packer defense to prominence. He wasn’t McCarthy’s first choice, but after Mike Nolan and Gregg Williams spurned the Packers, and Jim Haslett was left hanging, McCarthy moved fast to lock up Capers before the NY Giants could.

Capers, 58, has 38 years of coaching experience, including 23 years in the National Football League. He has been a defensive coordinator seven of those years (Pittsburgh, ‘92-’94; Jacksonville 1999-2000; and Miami ‘06-’07) and head coach nine of them (Carolina 1995-’98 and Houston 2001-’05).

Fortunately for the Packers, his record as a coordinator is much better than his record as a head coach. Not that he took on easy tasks. As Capers has jokingly said, “I’m the only guy stupid enough to take two head coaching jobs with expansion teams.”

Capers has experience with the 3-4 in Pittsburgh, Carolina, Jacksonville, Houston, Miami and New England. This is the third time he will be converting a 4-3 team.

Based on his history, the 20th-ranked Packers defense can count on a quick turnaround.

When Capers took over the 25th-ranked Jaguars defense in 1999, the Jaguars moved up to fourth in the rankings and led the league in scoring defense. And when he converted the Dolphins to a 3-4 in 2006, they improved from 18th to fourth in the defensive rankings.

“The most foolish thing you can do is put in a scheme and plug your players into that,” Capers has said. “You have to have enough flexibility to put your best 11 football players out there and feature what they do best. We know where we would kind of like to go. How fast we’ll get there is another thing.”

That having been said, Capers strongly favors the 3-4, which is gaining popularity in the league. There are now 12 teams playing the 3-4, but the Packers will be one of only three using it in the NFC.

Capers considers the scarcity of 3-4 teams in the NFC as a benefit to the Packers. “If you are one of the few, it becomes a little bit of an advantage,” Capers said. “There are only three days each week to prepare, and if your opponents go five or six weeks in a row preparing for 4-3 teams, it helps.”

“The two top defenses in the league played the 3-4 last year in Pittsburgh and Baltimore,” Capers said. “That means something to coaches.”

Kevin Greene, Green Bay’s new outside linebackers coach, was a training-camp volunteer in Pittsburgh last summer. He worked closely with outside backer LaMarr Woodley, who had a breakout season in 2008. If nothing else, Greene’s experience as a pass-rushing linebacker means he knows what it takes to get to the quarterback from the OLB spot.

Aaron Kampman has been working closely with Greene, and according to Mike McCarthy, Kampman has firmly grasped the mental aspect of playing that position.

Capers is excited about the Packers two first-round draft picks, B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews, especially since they are well suited for the 3-4. “Both of them have the kind of physical tools to do a lot of the things we like to ask them to do,” Capers said.

“Raji has really good size and really good athletic ability for his size. He can play nose, he can play defensive end if we ask him to bump out and do that. Matthews has the ability not only to rush but to drop into coverage. We’re excited about having them.”

Dom Capers took the Packers job, he says, because his gut told him it’s a great match. Said Capers, “I had conversations with numerous teams and when it came down to it I felt this was the best match and best marriage and felt excellent.”

So now that the honeymoon is over, I ask the question: Will it be a marriage made in heaven?


You can find more of Jersey Al Bracco’s articles on several sports websites: NFL Touchdown, Packers Lounge, Packer Chatters , Jersey Al’s Blog and Bleacher Report.

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