As the Packers prepare to face the Cleveland Browns in their first preseason game, the defense is ready to embark on their second year under Dom Capers. The key unit to watch out for, in my opinion will be the defensive line.
Last season, the injury-riddled secondary struggled as the Packers were unable to mount enough of a pass rush to help the inexperienced replacements out. A big part of the lack of pass rush can be attributed to the defensive line not getting a push up the middle or occupying blockers so the linebackers had blitzing lanes.
When Dom Capers was hired to be the Packers Defensive Coordinator we all heard the doom and gloom predictions of what would happen making the change to a 3-4 defense without having the players to fit the system
That proved to be a wasted worry, as the improvement in the defense was one of the best things to come out of the 2009 season.
But the defensive limitations where exposed playing against the best QB’s. The lack of pass rush was evident playing against good QB’s. When you give someone like Kurt Warner room to move up in the pocket he will pick your defense apart.
Many fans had a top OLB on their draft wish list. But the biggest problem was not from the outside it was the lack of push inside.
The OLB’s would pinch and collapse the pocket from the outside but there was a big hole for the QB to just step up.
To Ted Thompson’s credit, the situation was addressed by drafting two of the more prototypical 3-4 defensive ends in the 2010 Draft, Mike Neal and C.J. Wilson.
The Packers coaching staff also made positional changes, moving BJ Raji to nose tackle, where they hope he will be able to penetrate into the backfield and draw attention away from the other rushers.
During drills and the family night scrimmage, I payed close attention to the defensive line. Here are my observations and thoughts:
(BTW, for a full rundown of the Browns and what the Packers can expect, be sure to check out Holly Phelp’s on “The Other 31“. Excellent work there every week, previewing the Packer’s upcoming opponents.)
The Nose Tackle is the most important line position in the 3-4 defense. That player has to be able to take on double teams and hold his ground. The NT being able to hold his ground is the key to being able to stop the run in the 3-4.
Ryan Pickett did a very good job of that last year. But what he lacks is the ability to split those double teams and get some pass rush up the middle.
Pickett does appear to be the best shape I have saw him in for this point in training camp. I think Pickett can be better then Jolly at DE, but I’m not sold with his move to the DE position.
I can see it in their new Hippo Package, and short yardage situations, but I think he should be rotated witBJ Raji at NT first and fill in as needed at DE.
BJ Raji will be the starter at NT this year, and there is no doubt in my mind he will be even better then Pickett against the run.Where Raji will make a difference is he has the ability to split those double teams and get in the QB’s face.
Watching him in drills and during the Family night scrimmage you can see the improvement in his hand work and keeping his feet under him.This is what he was drafted to do in the 3-4, not to play DE.
Capers has talked about Jenkins doing things differently this off season to get a bit quicker. Many times he was so close to making it to the QB last year and just not getting there. Looks like that should change.
In watching the drills you forget just how big and quick these players are. Jenkins stood out in every drill and every snap he played.
Mike Neal sure looks the part of a 3-4 DE. He has a very good first step and is a powerful player. Neal can bend his knees and sink into the Offensive linemen driving him off the ball; he has the bull rush down.
He is raw in technique at 3-4 DE, playing in space at the end position is an adjustment from the DT position he played in college. He will need to add pass rush moves and work on his hands in getting off the Offensive tackles. He is working on it, as i observed him working on a rip move.
Neal has excellent quickness, as he demonstrated with his 1.70 ten yard time, which compared favorably to many linebackers (for example, Jerry Hughes had a 1.63 10yd time).
I think to start out he will be able to over come his lack of experience and technique at the 3-4 DE spot with his quickness and brute strength.
C.J. Wilson looked, I wouldn’t say lost, but is behind in technique, and with less reps then the others he looks to be thinking about what he needs to do and where he has to be. What he did show was more pass rush moves then Neal.
And is very strong also, we have heard about records that Neal set in the weight room. Wilson had one more rep @ 225# then Neal did and was just .02 slower for a ten yard time. Wilson is fighting for one of the last spots on the Dline.
Justin Harrell: I know for some this is going to sound like I’ve gone over the edge, but Justin Harrell looks as good as anyone on the Dline. He is strong, has great hands and moved well along the line.
I know there is a big question with him being able to stay healthy. He looks in great shape, best he has ever looked as a Packer. Now I think we all agree that this is his last chance to actually show that talent. If he gets hurt I highly doubt he will be put back in I.R.
With him staying in Green Bay the entire season last year and putting extra time during the off season, it shows in what I saw from him. I think he makes this team better, but we all know the questions that come with him.
Jarius Wynn looks like a second year player; I was pleasantly surprised watching him. To be honest I blew him off as JAG. But he earned more and more playing time last year and I watched him closely in the Seattle game. You could see the difference from training camp last year to that late in the season game. And you can see the improvement from this off season. I put him in the same boat as Wilson.
Anthony Toribio doesn’t get any mention, but he played a lot of reps at NT during Saturday night’s scrimmage. Looking at the first depth chart, he is listed as the back up at NT behind Raji. He can hold point, moves pretty well. But I just don’t see him as being the primary back up at NT. As I said I would rather see Pickett there. I really don’t know if Toribio makes the team this year.
Pickett, Raji, Jenkins, Harrell and Neal are locks to me. So Wilson, Wynn and Toribio are fighting for what is most likely one spot.
As with the majority of the positions, this team has ample competition for not only who makes the team but also who will start. The defensive linemen are the key to the 2010 defense and how this team will do.
The games are won up front. These guys have to generate pressure up the middle or we will see the same problems we saw last year.
This POST was submitted by contributor, Don Christensen, otherwise known as YOOP…