As the Packers’ 2009 training camp continues, here are the developments I want to see on the defensive side of the ball by the time the Packers break camp.
Developments I want to see on Defense:
More defensive line depth: HELP! Even before training camp started, I thought this was an area of concern for the Packers. The potential backups were Johnny Jolly, Justin Harrell, Mike Montgomery, Alfred Malone, Dean Muhtadi, Anthony Toribio and draft pick Jarius Wynn. There isn’t one name on that list that makes me feel warm and fuzzy.
Now that we are almost two weeks in, it’s a BIG concern. Projected starter BJ Raji is just getting into camp, Justin Harrell is again trapped in his injury hell and Johnny Jolly (who takes too many plays off for my liking, anyway) is banged up. The only bright spot on the line is Cullen Jenkins looking like his old self while coming back from his injury. Ryan Pickett is a solid player and is now surely the starter at nose tackle.
Having watched a lot of the New York Giants defense for the last few years, what makes them so good is the depth they have at DL. They can run reserves onto the field that are fresh and almost as talented as their starters. Opposing offensive linemen have to deal with a seemingly never-ending string of big, nasty defensive linemen. It wears the offensive linemen out and saps them of some of their strength as the game progresses. This is how the Giant’s defense is able to shut down opposing offenses late in games.
In my opinion, the Packers could really use another veteran on the DL to provide some depth. Ebenezer Ekuban, Kevin Carter, Vonnie Holliday and others are still out there and unsigned. Shouldn’t we have brought one of these guys in instead of Stryker Sulak? Sure, it would have cost more money, but isn’t there a bigger need at DL than there is at outside LB?
Al Harris moves to nickel back: Let me make this perfectly clear, I have nothing against Al Harris. This is really more about Tramon Williams than it is about Al Harris. While Al Harris may have lost a step and isn’t the greatest tackler, he is still in the top 20% of cornerbacks around the league. If the Packers break camp with Harris at the nickel, that means Williams had a GREAT camp and the coaches feel he is ready for NFL success. I’m looking for Tramon to take that next big step and show us all that the flashes we’ve seen have been no accident.
Admittedly, this is a long shot. Deposing Al Harris would be no small feat, and the Packers coaches would surely be reluctant to make the move. Another factor is that Williams is probably better suited to the nickel position than Harris is. But who’s to say that in nickel situations, we don’t bring Harris in to play corner and move Williams to nickel? Is this type of move something that’s ever done by NFL coaches? I have no idea, just thinking out loud here. Regardless, my wish is to get Tramon Williams on the field for every defensive down.
Aaron Kampman: By the end of training camp, I just want to see Aaron Kampman be one thing: Comfortable. If Kampman is able to grasp the responsibilities of his new position well enough to be able to play without having to over-think, then he will be just fine. Will he become a great cover linebacker? Probably not. Can he become a great rushing linebacker? Probably yes.
I trust Dom Capers to use Kampman in the best way and maximize his effectiveness. He will surely attempt to limit the game situations when Kampman will be called upon to cover one-on-one. Kampman will be protected by schemes in which he will get help from corners or safeties. And you can expect Kampman to be turned loose in passing situations, often in sub packages, where he will play as an end in a three-point stance.
I also trust that Capers and Kevin Greene have gotten Kampman to “buy-in” to the change and have worked tirelessly to make him feel good about it. To Kampman’s credit, he has been a model student. Kampman has spent a great deal of time in Green Bay since Capers and his crew were hired. He has studied the playbook extensively and worked one-on-one with Greene for much of the off-season.
Now that training camp is underway, I mainly want to see Kampman become comfortable with the schemes and know what his responsibilities are in each situation. If he has that part mastered, I’m confidant his ability will take care of the rest.
Defense is ready for game 1: I started writing this article a few days before the first preseason game. When I referred to game 1, I was talking about the first game of the regular season. Little did I know, the defense would be ready by the first preseason game - a shutout! But seriously, I’m not reading anything into this first game against the awful Browns, other than our reserve DBs and LBs played well.
Getting back to my point, if the Packers are to have a winning season, it’s imperative the new defense is humming and ready to go to start the season. Tthe way the Packers’ schedule shakes out, the early games are where the wins are there for the taking. The Packers’ first six games are against Chicago, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Minnesota, Detroit, Cleveland. Even if we give the Packers a loss to one of their division rivals, that’s still 5 games they should put in the win column. But only if the defense is ready.
I’ve seen this scenario before, firsthand. In 2006, the Packers had fired Mike Sherman and brought in a new coaching staff headed by Mike McCarthy. The opening game of the season was against Chicago, and it happened to be my first ever visit to Lambeau Field. unfortunately, my day was ruined as the Packers were a disorganized mess. Nobody was on the same page, there were missed assignments galore and it seemed like on every play there was a Bear receiver open by 10 yards. I’ll swear on anything you like, that day, they made Rex Grossman look like Joe Montana. The final score was 26-0, but it could have easily been 40-0.
In any case, my point is that the Packers coaches simply had done a poor job getting the team ready for the start of the season. In fact, it took the better part of the season that year before the Packers started to look like a football team. With a new defensive staff and scheme, the Packers can’t afford to repeat that mistake. The good news is that Dom Capers is no Bob Sanders. Capers’ track record has me hoping he will get the job done in time.
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