Packers Defense Looks to Be NFL's Best
"We wish the best for those guys, and we're very confident in the group of guys we have here working hard and putting in the time," Packers safety Nick Collins told FanHouse in a phone interview. "But we want everybody to be there. It's hard to just say we're not worrying about those guys, but hopefully they can resolve their situations and get back quick, because last year as a defense we were at our best when we were all together."
And make no mistake -- the Packers' defense, along with the rest of the team, has some very high hopes for the 2010 season.
"We want to be the No. 1 overall defense," Collins said. "We want everybody to talk about us, not talk about what we could be."
The Packers are among the teams leading the off-season hype race (non-Jets division). Preseason predictions are rolling in, and based on last year's success, the expectation that Aaron Rodgers will continue to grow as an elite NFL quarterback and the feeling that they've plugged some of their 2009 holes, the Packers are a team people are picking to contend for and win the Super Bowl. That's fine with the Packers, who expect the same of themselves, but they know it's only June and there's work still to be done.
"Our defense led the league in takeaways and defense against the run," second-year defensive coordinator Dom Capers said in a phone interview. "Normally, when you lead the league in takeaways and run defense, you should have a shot. So probably our biggest challenge is to figure out how to improve our pass defense, especially how to get more pressure on a consistent basis."
This is the second year of Capers' 3-4 scheme in Green Bay, and he said it's gone much more smoothly this spring because he doesn't have to spend as much time drilling new terminology as he did last year when he was new. But there are going to be some differences this year from 2009 -- some Capers is planning and some for which he's hoping:
• 2009 first-round draft pick B.J. Raji will move inside to play nose tackle. This move is not a surprise, as Raji was drafted to play nose tackle. But since he spent much of his rookie season at end (and a decent chunk of it injured), it's new to see him in the middle. That's where he spent the entire minicamp, though, and that's where the Packers expect him to be when the season starts.
"B.J.'s biggest problem was, he held out of camp last year and he missed our installations," Capers said. "We had about 150 defenses for him to learn, and he wasn't in camp. Then he sprained his ankle in a preseason game. So he was really behind the 8-ball all along. We think he's going to be a really good player for us because he has the size and also the athletic ability we look for in there."
• Rookie Morgan Burnett will work into the safety rotation -- perhaps in a significant role at the outset. Burnett has been taking first-team reps this spring with Bigby sitting out, and he's drawn raves from coaches and teammates. Regardless of whether or when Bigby returns to claim his starting strong safety job, Burnett is likely to see a great deal of time on the field in a league that gets more pass-oriented all the time.
"He's been doing a good job," Collins said of Burnett. "One thing I can tell about the young guy is he pays attention. You can coach him, he listens and you like to play with a player like that."
• Capers will deploy his ends and linebackers strategically to improve QB pressure. Capers said he's counting on his linebacker group to produce in pressure packages in passing situations, but he specifically mentioned ends Mike Neal and Cullen Jenkins as vital to what the Packers are planning for those situations in 2010. He said he believes Jenkins can be a critical factor as a pass-rusher and that the team might employ some packages that see the 300-pounder line up as an outside linebacker on passing downs.
"I think he's a guy that can give us some sacks," Capers said. "I thought he had some great rushes last year. If he had just finished a couple of those rushes off, I think he could have had nine or 10 sacks. (He had 4.5.)"
Regardless of how it all looks and where everybody lines up, it's clear the Packers' defense would like to be more than just an afterthought when people discuss Rodgers and the high-powered offense. They believe they put many of the pieces in place in 2009, and they expect to take a big step forward in 2010 -- assuming everybody can get on the field together.
"The sky's the limit for us this year," Collins said. "We're very confident, and it's up to us to go out and meet expectations. People think we're a Super Bowl contender, and we welcome that, because we think that too. But we know we have to go out there and show everybody why they're right and we're right."