Green Bay Packers vs. Cleveland Browns Preview: Watch the Defensive Line All Green Bay Packers All the Time

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…

  • fhornplayer83

    Good points all around. TT made a good decision drafting Neal, and I think he will be a solid part of the GBP’s future.

    I just hope people don’t see success tonight as The Word that our defense has greatly improved since last year. Not only is it just preseason, but it’s the Browns.

  • Just look at individual battles on the line and see who’s consistently beating who…

    • MM gave Wynn a little nudge by saying he had to pick it up and he has, Also Wilson has started to show things also.
      We will get a real look at the group tonight, I can’t wait.

      • I’ve been behind Wilson since day one. I think he could be a really good pass rusher down the road. I definitely want him to make this team. Hope he makes a big push – starting tonight!

  • Ron LC

    The one thing the pre-season does is get the players minds into real game conditons. Your thoughts on the Dline are interesting and add a lot to what I’m going to watch for tonight. I want to see what the young guys are going to do. I want to see their energy levels and enthusiasm. That goes especially for Harrell. This is his time to bring it to the field.

    As usual I’ll be most interested in the Oline backups. I think the Packers can cobble together a decent Oline to start the season. But injuries there are virtually guarenteed. The backup are key to the GB offense this year. The rookies have to be good and the returners need to improve geometerically from last year. If not, it could be a disappointing year. 51 sacks must never happen again.

    Also, ST’s better look like a bunch of half-starved preditors being released into a herd of blind, deaf, and crippled deer. If Slocum hasn’t got the message yet, ST’s stunk last year. FIXa IT!

    • Well, I don’t know how long he’ll be in there, but Josh Cribbs will definitely test the coverage teams tonight…

      • Ron LC

        Fortunately for Slocum, Cribbs didn’t play. Preditors – Ha! More like tinker bells – I’ve just about had all I can take of Slocum. Two punters that can kick 57 and 56 yards one punt and 36 the next. I swear I’ve seen that before? Could it have been last year, the year before and the year before that. To realize they once had Hendricks and Longwell is depressing.

        The Dline was vanila, but that doesn’t excuse the lack of energy and total inability to move the Cleveland line at all.

        And likewise, the Brown’s Dline was vanilla so I can’t say much about their performance. If we try to excuse GB because they didn’t use any complex defenses, we need to do the same for the Browns.

        Williams needs to work on his coverage.

        MM’s post game sounded a lot like 2008, the year of pad levels.

        More to come in Seattle next week. Don’t care who wins or loses, but it will be imperative that performance improves, especially the ST’s.

        • Nothing exciting from the D-Line in this game. Raji was a mixed bag, Pickett at DE didn’t do much, Jenkins by far the best. Overall, still solid against the run, but more improvement needed against the pass.

  • jeremiah

    Wilson had his best practice by far this week, getting a couple sacks. A more technically sound player than neal, but he needs to just play the game, and think less.

    IMO he has much better odds to make the team than wynn. Wynn was drafted as a project, but wilson is better suited for the D IMO.

    • I loved the Wilson pick, although I think he will need a few years. Having said that, I think he could be really good down the line.

  • Bearmeat

    Reading this article just gets me more excited for the season. This is the best Packer team heading into the season I’ve seen since 1997. Assuming the D line is improved, (and I think that’s a fair bet), and BJones/Chillar prove adequate at passrush, I don’t see why SB isn’t squarely in sight..

    • I agree on the talent level looking like 1997, the other thing that comes to mind is the coaching staff, this staff is very good.
      But for me the Super Bowl talk is just a nice thing to think about, so many things have to fall in place with that.
      I’ll take winning the division first and go form there.
      I believe the talent is there, And the thing that will push this team further this year is the Dline and the Oline.

      • Agreed. if the Packers can control both sides of the line of scrimmage, success will follow.

  • Yoop

    After watching the game I like Pickett at DE even less.
    One game BAD start, I’ll hold to much judgment until later.
    Other then Special teams still suck.

    • I’m willing to give the defense some time, especially with no Matthews, Harris, Bigby and a rookie safety in his first real action. The Special Teams, however – no excuse.