GREEN BAY — Much has been written and said about the changes planned for the Green Bay Packers’ beleaguered defense.
Ever since coach Mike McCarthy revealed at the NFL winter meetings that he had instructed coordinator Dom Capers to reduce the volume schematically and use more personnel on defense, people have wondered what that really means. The introduction of the hybrid “elephant” position to the defense made the Packers’ intentions even more unclear.
Reporters have been trying to figure out how the changes in scheme and personnel, spurred by a run of injuries and generally poor performance the past two or three seasons, will manifest themselves once the games start. With the players convening this week for the final time prior to training camp, the secretive McCarthy tried — well, a little bit anyway — to clear up the confusion.
“This really wasn’t as big of a change as what’s been made of it,” he said Tuesday. “But we have two very strong outlining issues: We’re always going to be young — that issues challenges — (and) our availability hasn’t been what it needs to be the last two years. So you can’t keep sitting here talking about, ‘Shoot, we had injuries again and it just didn’t quite work out.’ Not that I’m saying we’re preparing that way. We’re preparing that if we have 26 defensive players, (heck), all 26 of them need to be prepared to contribute and we can maybe tailor it better to their abilities.”
So far, so good. After three weeks of OTA workouts and one minicamp practice, the defense is making progress.
“I feel very good about our defense,” McCarthy said. “Talked about it today in the team meeting, we have never been this far (along) as far as the mental consistency.”
Shortening the playbook has something to do with that. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he sees much better communication from the defense during workouts. And so far anyway, the Packers have had most of their defenders available, the notable exceptions being linebackers Clay Matthews and Nick Perry. In the meantime, the coaches are developing roster flexibility to be better prepared if injuries do hit.
Can simplifying the defense and making better use of personnel cause an immediate turnaround on defense? It can’t hurt.
But another potential change surfaced Tuesday and, assuming it’s not a figment of lineman Mike Daniels’ fertile imagination, it could aid the defensive recovery even more than the measures taken by McCarthy and Capers. We’re talking about a change in attitude.
“For me, personally, being a leader, I’m looking to make the defense a lot meaner, get after guys a little bit,” Daniels said. “A lot of times you look on tape the last couple of years and some of our guys get shoved in the back after plays. I’ve seen it happen to some defensive linemen. Now that I’m older and I’m a little more vocal, that’s unacceptable. Every game one of our offensive guys gets knocked out, maybe two, so it’s about time we returned the favor to other teams instead of just getting pushed around all the time.
“It’s just a little bit of a different attitude. A little meaner. (No), a lot meaner. Actually, (it’s) being mean for once because, quite frankly, we haven’t been. I think that’s been our biggest problem on defense. So I’m personally going to make that my job to really get the best out of everybody. I don’t care if I’ve got to hit somebody before we get on the field. If that’s going to (tick) them off and they take it out on somebody on the other team, then so be it.”
Whoa, wasn’t expecting that in June. Cornerback Tramon Williams, knowing that Daniels can be a bit of a loose cannon, rolled his eyes when asked about Daniels’ comments and playfully warned reporters to consider the source.
If you think about it, though, what Daniels said makes sense. Seattle and San Francisco have dominated the NFC for three seasons and the common denominator is their extremely physical defenses. The Packers haven’t been pushovers, but they haven’t physically dominated opponents, either.
“If something has to be said, I’m going to say it,” Daniels continued. “We play a violent game. We get paid to be violent, so why not? If you deck somebody in the locker room because you had a disagreement, there’s not going to be any sensitivity training. It’s a barbaric sport, so that’s how you’re going to have to approach it. I’m tired of getting our face punched in by other teams. I’m not used to that.”
Daniels has emerged as a team leader after a sophomore season in which he was the Packers’ best defensive lineman. He freely admits the Packers’ lack of physicality hits too close to home with him.
“Absolutely, I’ve taken it personally since I stepped on campus,” Daniels said. “I think that’s something that we’ve lacked and we need to get a lot better at.”
Simplifying things and better using the abilities of every player should help the execution, but playing good defense also involves attitude. If Daniels has his way, that too will change.