Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Packers Season Preview - Linebackers
In 2008 the major weakness for the Packers was on Defense. The team struggled with a long list of injuries to some key players on Defense like Cullen Jenkins, Nick Barnett, Al Harris, and Atari Bigby to name a few and finished 6-10. They lost seven games by less than five points, four of those coming down to a field goal or less. This was due in large part to the defense failing to come up with stops at crucial points in the fourth quarter.
The transition to the 3-4 defense represents the greatest challenge for the Green Bay Packers heading into the 2009 season. T
he one position that has been under a microscope the most are the Linebackers. In a 3-4 scheme,the Linebackers are the heart and sole of the defense. And the Packers have several players who fit the 3-4 very well. But with that said, they also have a lot of question marks.
Most notable question mark is Aaron Kampman. Kampman has been to two Pro Bowls and has 37 sacks over the past three years. He's making the switch to LB and playing a position he hasn't played since High School.
Early reports from Training Camp say Kampman has struggled in the early goings and looks lost, especially when dropping back in coverage. So do the Pack try to trade him, while his value is still high or hope new Linebackers Coach, Kevin Greene can turn him into a real threat in this Defense.
If anyone can do it, it's Dom Capers and Kevin Greene. Campers helped turn former DE, Tracy Brackens in Jacksonville and Jason Taylor in Miami into solid LB's in the 3-4. In 1999, Brackens, who was 6-4 and 267, had 12 sacks, which topped his previous high of seven; in 2006, Taylor, who was an elite defensive end but also had a prototype 3-4 build at 6-6 and 255, had 13 ½ sacks and was named NFL defensive player of the year at age 32.
For another former defensive end, the change to 3-4 outside linebacker already appears to have been a boon. Jeremy Thompson (6-4, 260), a fourth-round draft pick from 2008, goes into training camp with an edge over first-round draft pick Clay Matthews for the starting job at right outside linebacker. Thompson (6-4, 260) opened the offseason at that position and played well enough to stay ahead of Matthews through the final minicamp.
Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk will be the starting inside linebackers in a scheme that’s designed to free them to make most of the tackles in the inside run game. The move to a 3-4 Defense should help A.J. Hawk show his elite talent that made him the #5 pick in the 2006 NFL Draft.
Other players in the mix at LB include Desmond Bishop, Brandon Chillar, Brady Poppinga, and 7th round pick Brad Jones. Jones could be a nice surprise if given the opportunity. He's a perfect fit for the 3-4. Brady Poppinga and Brandon Chillar are two players that also could flourish in the 3-4, as they were meant to play in this style Defense.
All in all the LB corps of the 2009 Green Bay Packers should be a position of strength and will be fun to watch these guys from week to week. It sure beats the Bob Sanders way.
Charles Woodson put in his two cents about the Defense from last year and the new scheme: "You guys have watched us in this defense for the last three years and when you watched our games, I'm sure you could call out what we were running a lot of times," Woodson said. "It's one thing for things to look the same every play but you can't just run the same thing every play. So this defense gives us a great chance to give the offense different looks, move around a little bit, just showing them different things, throw them off-balance. So it's a defense you can have a lot of fun in. Of course, there is a lot to it so you definitely have to be on your Ps and Qs as far as making your calls and making sure everybody's on the same page. But when everything's clicking, it's a very, very fun defense."