There are a lot of reasons to feel optimistic about this Packers season. Aaron Rodgers is the game’s best quarterback at the most important position. A capable running game is now firmly in place after drafting Alabama bulldozer Eddie Lacy. And the leaner, stronger Jermichael Finley is keeping his tongue muzzled.
Those are great reasons. But I’m the pegging the defense to have a bounce-back season.
I understand if a lot of you are raising your eyebrows right now. Heck, the Packers were 22nd in the league in defensive yards per game (336) and tied for 30th — that’s second to last — with 123 penalties.
Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy made a bold move by bringing back defensive tackle Johnny Jolly. He hasn’t seen game action in 3 ½ years, spent six months in jail and tried to get his life back after a codeine arrest. But Jolly is looking like the left defensive end that started all 16 games in 2009. He had a sack, a pick, two fumble recoveries and 24 tackles back then.
Jolly has looked great in the preseason, showing that the fire for football never went out. His presence is even more important now that first round pick Datone Jones has been dealing with a pesky ankle injury.
Like Jolly, linebacker Nick Perry is another key cog this year. The first round pick saw his rookie campaign truncated due to nagging knee and wrist injuries. He is trimmer than last year and has a better understanding of the outside linebacker position, which was different than defensive end which is what he played at USC.
That makes two great bookend linebackers in Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme. Clay Matthews has played out of this universe thanks to his impressive closing speed, his array of moves to get to the quarterback and his seemingly limitless energy. With a solid linebacker on the other side, Matthews will not be double-teamed nearly as often, which will open the door for Matthews to make his fifth Pro Bowl in his fifth NFL season.
The Packers front seven is better. Jolly brings a needed edge and nastiness that hasn’t been seen in awhile and A.J. Hawk brings the necessary leadership because he doesn’t care about the pay cut, he just wants to win. And as he heads into his eighth season, Hawk is like a quasi coach at inside linebacker.
I will agree that the back end of the defense is a question mark. I’m not sure if free safety Morgan Burnett can be another Nick Collins, but that’s what the Packers are paying him to be. And Casey Hayward was fifth in the league last year with six interceptions as a nickel back. But with a severely pulled hamstring, he is fighting for his place on the depth chart. Regardless, he still remains ahead of Jarrett Bush — one of the highest paid guys in the league that is best known for his special teams pursuits.
This defense is more athletic. With all of the time spent chatting up coaches from Texas A&M and Wisconsin trying to figure out the hidden secrets behind the read-option, this roster and coaching staff should be better prepared for this season.
For of those of you that still think the Packers D is missing a ‘mean streak,’ the aforementioned Jolly — albeit with a poor last name choice — is your man. If anyone is going to make Jerel Worthy crank it up a notch or force Sam Shields to be more physical, it’s Jolly.
With a reshuffled offensive line and missing last year’s No. 1 wideout, the offense might need to lean on its defensive counterpart several times this year.
And that unit is more than up to the challenge.——————
Cory Jennerjohn is from Wisconsin and has been in sports media for over 10 years. To contact Cory e-mail him at jeobs -at- yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter: Cory Jennerjohn