Defense the key for Packers
B.J. Raji, the Packers' first round draft pick in 2008. | Photo: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
GREEN BAY - Despite all the talk in camp of the “potentially” improved running game on offense, defense holds the key for the Packers stepping to the next level once again. A good running game can help in terms of time of possession keeping the defense rested and on the sideline, but the fact is, when the Packers won the Super Bowl, they had the best defense overall in the NFC and they will have to move solidly into the top five to muscle their way to January wins when it counts.
The Packers defense made strides last year over the numbers they posted in 2011. The Green Bay defense improved from 19th in points to 11th, from 32nd in yards to 11th, and from 32nd in passing yards to 11th.
One area of concern last year was the drop off in takeaways down from 38 in 2011 to 23 last year - fewest in the McCarthy/Capers era. Of course, defending the read-option of San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been an off season priority after a playoff exit that saw the San Francisco signal caller rush for 181 yards, orchestrate an offense that put 45 points and 579 yards on the board against the Green Bay defense.
General Manager Ted Thompson and company have not bee sitting on their hands. They have invested heavily on defense in the past two drafts taking 11 defenders. Special emphasis has been focused on rebuilding the defensive front seven where they selected linemen or linebackers on eight selections in the past two college lotteries. They drafted OLB Nick Perry, DL Jerel Worthy, DL Mike Daniels, and LB Terrell Manning in 2012. They added DE Datone Jones, DE Josh Boyd, LB Nate Palmer and LB Sam Barrington in this past April’s draft. Most of those players must step to the next level for the Green Bay defense to accomplish it’s goals.
In the past five drafts, the Packers have invested two first round picks along the defensive line in B. J. Raji and Datone Jones, and second round selections in Mike Neal and Jerel Worthy.
Raji was selected in the first round of the 2009 draft as the cornerstone of the new 3-4 defense being installed by Dom Capers. He is in the final year of his rookie contract and has already been to a Pro Bowl.
Jones, the first rounder from this April’s draft, certainly looks like he can become a difference maker along the line at 6’-4”, 285 lbs. We will know more when they put on the pads at training camp.
Neal had an interesting spring working at both end and outside linebacker. Coach McCarthy hinted at an expanded role for the 4th year defensive end from Purdue who had a nice season in 2012 with 4.5 sacks.
Worthy suffered a season ending knee injury in Minnesota the last week of the regular season and his return to the field might not happen until sometime after the regular season campaign begins.
Old reliable Ryan Pickett is coming off one of his best seasons going into his 13th year.
Johnny Jolly is back in camp and it will be interesting to see what he can offer after being away from the game for three seasons due to legal problems. In 2009 he led the Packers defensive line in tackles.
Also looking to expand his role is undersized pass rusher Mike Daniels, a 4th round pick out of Iowa in 2012. He returned a fumble 43 yards for a touchdown against the Lions last season.
This spring, the club drafted defensive end Josh Boyd in the 5th round out of Mississippi St., and defensive line coach Mike Trgovac likes his versatility.
Suffice to say, the Packers have a lot of young options along the defensive front, and with the way they have invested draft picks into this unit one can expect they will, at the very least, have quality depth.
Turgovac is the man who will mold this group in the trenches, and I believe he is one of the top defensive line “teachers” in the game. A strong position coach can accelerate the growth process of a young group, and I expect that’s what will happen here.
Tomorrow, we take a look at the evolving linebacking corps in Green Bay.