Let’s get this out of the way first: I couldn’t be more excited about the 2012 Green Bay Packers draft class. I thought Ted Thompson did a great job targeting needed position players and acquiring them at a good value. For a GM who has scraped the bottom of the barrel for outside linebackers the past two years, it’s refreshing to see him pick a prospect like Nick Perry in the first round.
Of course, draft picks usually come with some baggage, and Perry is definitely no exception. Draftniks have identified a couple question marks when it comes to Perry’s future as an outside linebacker for the Packers:
1. Is he the right fit for a 3-4 OLB, or should he be playing as a DE in a 4-3 system? His body size seems to be large for an OLB, and he has expressed minimal enthusiasm about switching positions.
2. Does his motor run consistently enough for the professional level? Scouts have called him “a little soft” and noted that he has a tendency to take plays off.
These are valid concerns, but I would challenge you to find an NFL draft pick (or even current player!) with no flaws or uncertainties about them. The question becomes how the coaches work to correct these deficiencies and implement the player in the defensive scheme.
The Packers’ second pick of the draft, DL Jerel Worthy, was also questioned about his fit into a 3-4 system. His trouble shedding blocks and projection as merely a one-gap type lineman gave cause for some reservations about the selection. But again, the draft is not an exact science. Players who are expected to thrive in the NFL can fail just as easily as a questionable prospect can succeed. Nobody ever gets it 100% right.
What we all really have to remember, though, is that Mike McCarthy, Dom Capers, and the rest of the Green Bay coaching staff will find a way to get their best players onto the field and in the most effective way.
The 3-4 defensive philosophy is based on versatility and confusion. In fact, even the term “3-4” is a bit of a misnomer these days, as the teams who run such systems are outside of their base personnel more often than not. Teams like the Patriots, Dolphins, and Ravens have shifted towards the so-called “hybrid defense,” where the base lineman can change between 3 and 4 players, depending on the play, and gap responsibilities aren’t dictated in the traditional manners.
In this type of front, new guys like Perry and Worthy could line up on one side, with Pickett taking the nose and Raji on the opposite end. The gap responsibilities would then be suited for each player’s strengths.
Regardless of what Dom Capers decides to do from a schematic and philosophical standpoint with his defense, he’s going to put his players in the best positions to succeed.
“I think we’ve got enough flexibility,” said Capers in his press conference after the draft. “We’ll adjust what we’re doing to try to get our best football players on the field.”
When Clay Matthews was drafted in 2009, he became an instant starter. His ability to get to the quarterback as a 3-4 outside linebacker was unmatched on the team. Despite his relative weakness against the run, he was always in the game. Matthews is a game changer, a field tilter, whatever you want to call it. And three years later, he has now become a more complete linebacker and a much bigger threat in stopping the run as well as the pass.
If the new rookies turn out to be the best players at their position, then they will be the starters, regardless of any technical deficiencies in specific areas. They will learn in time how to hone their skills. And in situations where those skill sets might not be needed, then the Packers have enough talent elsewhere to fill in the gaps.
I have faith in Ted Thompson’s ability to identify talent, I have confidence in the coaching staff’s ability to improve that talent, and I know that Dom Capers will put his best players in the best positions to make this 2012 Green Bay defense a success.——————Follow @ChadToporski