Last offseason Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy made a bold guarantee that the running game was going to improve. Thanks to Eddie Lacy, he was right. This offseason, McCarthy has made a similar guarantee in regards to his defense improving and thanks to the additions of players like Julius Peppers and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, McCarthy’s guarantee should come true again in 2014.
The Packers who took the field for the first time this week with their entire football team in organized team activities, are optimistic about the potential improvement of their defense and having Peppers on the field in a Green Bay uniform for the first time only furthers that feeling.
After some embarrassing performances over the past couple of seasons, the Packers defense always seemed to lack speed and athleticism, making it difficult for them to defend the likes of Colin Kaepernick. Well, that should no longer be an issue for Green Bay, particularly among the defensive line.
One of McCarthy’s objectives going into the offseason was to get more athletic and more multiple up front. Signing the 6-7, 287-pound Peppers was definitely a step in the right direction but it was not the only thing the Packers have done to get more athletic up front.
Green Bay made a conscious decision to move on from Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly to pave the way for younger defensive lineman such as Datone Jones, Josh Boyd, Mike Daniels and rookie Khyri Thorton to get their opportunity up front.
Furthermore, the Packers have some highly versatile pass rushers in Peppers, Mike Neal and Nick Perry. All three players have the ability to line up as outside linebackers in a 3-4 defensive alignment, while at the same time playing with their hand in the ground as a 4-3 defensive end. Heck, Neal’s best position may be rushing from the inside as a defensive tackle.
The Packers will still have some beef up front with the return of B.J. Raji and the free agent signing of Letroy Guion, who will help in run defense. Yet, the overall tone of the defense is getting more athletic, more speed because that is where the game is headed and it’s clear over the past few seasons that Green Bay has been unable to keep up.
The point is the Packers’ pass rush looks are going to be multiple and so is their defensive front because in today’s NFL versatility, athleticism and the ability to pressure the quarterback is what playing defense is all about.
On the back end, Clinton-Dix will definitely help shore up what was quite possibly the NFL’s worth safety situation last season. The first-round choice from Alabama is a ball-hawk that can play the deep middle, cover the slot and come up the play the run.
The other significant take away on the defensive side of things from OTA’s is the potential of defensive back Micah Hyde moving to safety. So far, during OTA’s he has taken snaps exclusively at safety. The coaching staff says they are just testing him out right now, but knowing the Packers are in desperate need of depth at the position, the move makes sense. Hyde would be an outstanding third safety behind Clinton-Dix and Burnett.
At the end of the day OTA’s mean nothing. They are a glorified scrimmage with players wearing helmets and shorts. However, at least in the Packers’ case OTA’s have revealed that the objectives of adding more speed, athleticism and versatility to the defense have been achieved, which could mean big things for the Green Bay defense in 2014.