Behind Enemy Lines: Packers

The Chicago Bears have questions to answer this offseason on both sides of the ball, but the Green Bay Packers have some themselves. In particular, on defense since they are switching from a 4-3 to the 3-4. JC calls on Bill Huber of Packer Report for an offseason edition of Behind Enemy Lines.

John Crist: Making the switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4 is a process and takes time, as the things coaches look for at certain positions can be very different from one scheme to the other. How did the current players react to the news, especially since some of them realized they were on their way out the door?

Bill Huber: If you believe the Packers, the players seem to welcome the change. That makes sense considering last year's defensive problems. Change is always good when things are going bad. Aaron Kampman, in particular, is excited about the challenge of moving to outside linebacker.

Then again, as one general manager told me, who cares if the players are happy? If they're under contract, they have to play where they're told – especially if they want to get paid when their contract expires.


Kampman had 9.5 sacks this past season for Green Bay. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

JC: The 3-4 simply doesn't work without a behemoth of a nose tackle lined up over the center, as he has to occupy multiple blockers on most every snap. Do the Packers have anyone on the roster capable of filling that pivotal role in the middle?

BH: Some people have questions about Ryan Pickett's ability to do that. I don't. The guy is 6-2 and 330-ish pounds. That's exactly what you're looking for. Pickett, who will be 30 in October, is slowing down a bit, but he managed to start all 16 games last season. He adds nothing against the pass, but he's still tough to move out of the middle – even against a double team.

Obviously, Pickett can't play 60 snaps a game, though, so I think B.J. Raji has to be the target in the first round.

JC: Some 4-3 defensive ends aren't good enough athletes to play outside linebacker in the 3-4, but Kampman is going to give it a shot. What evidence is there to suggest he can be effective dropping into coverage, and who is going to line up at the other outside linebacker spot?

BH: Look no further than Greg Ellis, who moved seamlessly from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker for Dallas. Kampman is a blue-collar type of player, and when you're that hard-working kind of guy, your athleticism often gets lost. Kampman is as good an athlete as anyone in the NFL at his size, and a better athlete than Ellis from what I've been told. With that said, can he cover on occasion? That remains to be seen.

The other starter, at the moment, is Brady Poppinga. There's a boatload of pass-rushing outside linebackers in this draft. So the starter could wind up being a first-rounder like Everette Brown or Brian Orakpo, or a second-rounder like Connor Barwin or Robert Ayers.

JC: There isn't quite as much difference in the responsibilities of defensive backs in the 3-4, which bodes well for safeties Atari Bigby and Nick Collins. But what is going on with the corners, as both Al Harris and Charles Woodson are aging and may not play as much man-to-man coverage?

BH: The Ravens run a 3-4 defense that plays a lot of man-to-man coverage, so my read on it is this issue is being overblown a bit. As new coordinator Dom Capers said, it's his job to tailor his scheme to the players' strengths, not the other way around. So if Woodson and Harris are at their best playing press coverage, then that's what they'll play. Just not all the time. Variety, as they say, is the spice of life, and it's the key to a successful defense, Capers says.

Any quarterback-receiver combo can beat the best cornerback often enough if they know what's coming. That's a dramatic departure from the Bob Sanders-Jim Bates way of doing things.


Woodson had two defensive TDs for the Pack in 2008. (Domenic Centofanti/Getty Images)

JC: Have you noticed a difference in the players the front office is pursuing during the free agency period and the upcoming NFL Draft? Who are some of the veteran names we should watch for as possible free agent additions, and whom do you see Green Bay targeting with the ninth-overall pick?

BH: As for free agency, have you looked at the transaction wire? Same old Packers, in that regard. Ted Thompson had a flirtation with 3-4 end Chris Canty but wouldn't pay him without talking to him first, so Canty landed with the Giants. It was a terrible year for 3-4 free agents to begin with – especially among the linemen – and that list has been considerably weakened since Friday. Ideally, they'll land someone a step below Canty to play end, such as Igor Olshansky or Mike Wright.

As for the draft, as Thompson said, football players are football players. The big difference is looking for defensive ends. The ideal is 6-5 and 290 or 300 pounds. There aren't many ends at that size in the college ranks, so the personnel folks must look at the 4-3 collegiate defensive tackles that fit that mold and guess how they'd adapt to 3-4 end.

With that said, at No. 9, I think it's Raji or bust, just because he's the only talented nose tackle in this draft and there's nothing at that position in free agency. If he's gone, Thompson could look to fill a need at linebacker with Orakpo or Brown, or plan for the future by drafting an offensive tackle like Michael Oher or a cornerback like Malcolm Jenkins or Vontae Davis. Or maybe he trades down so he can get the only 3-4 end, Tyson Jackson, and picks up an extra pick. With the Brett Favre trade, the Packers already have five of the first 105 picks.


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John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report. Bill Huber is the Publisher of Packer Report.


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