One: The Big Deal
Getting off the field was one of many problems for the defense in 2011. Saturday morning offered some time to begin to address that issue.
A portion of the first full-padded practice of camp was devoted to third downs and blitzes, with the offense going against the defense 11-on-11. It gave a chance for each side to handle pressure situations.
"It's more about the timing," said head coach Mike McCarthy. "I mean, anytime you're in an installation phase, which we are always in the first nine practices, (it's about timing). Today, the emphasis was third down. We spent the first two days in normal down and distance, then second-and-8-plus with an emphasis with different types of no huddle. That was no different than today, we went no-huddle on third down, so with that there's a lot more pressure involved. There's times where the defense has a better scheme initially called than the offense, and the offense did some nice adjustments to potentially take away the scheme advantage, but with that, it's not about tricking them. It's about timing and execution, the gap integrity, the spacing and I thought for the first day our defense did a nice job."
The Packers' defense ranked 26th last season in third-down efficiency, allowing first downs 42.6 percent of the time. That inability to consistently get third-down stops wore on the defense, according to Charles Woodson.
"It's about having fun. For us a lot of times going out there on Sundays, it was work," Woodson said on Friday. "We had games where we couldn't get off the field. When teams decided they want to run, they were running the ball; and any time they needed to pick up a first down, they were picking up a first down. So, it was like work for us to go out there and try to figure out what we could do to stop the teams and it just wasn't happening. It took away from the actual fun for the game. When you're attacking and you're getting home and you're getting sacks and having tackles for losses, that builds that energy. That's something that we look forward to having this year and I think we will."
By contrast, the Packers' offense ranked third in the league in third down efficiency at 48.1 percent. Only New Orleans (56.7 percent) and San Diego (48.8 percent) were better. Individually, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was second in third-down passer rating (113.3) to Drew Brees (127.4) and No. 1 in passer rating against the blitz (131.4).
Two: Rookie of the Day
On Saturday, Hayward picked off backup quarterback Graham Harrell on a quick pass intended for Diondre Borel during a team period of practice. The 5-foot-11, 192-pound rookie appears to be a good fit in the Packers' big-play secondary. He also intercepted a pass during Friday's practice.
Where Hayward is slotted along the depth chart remains to be seen. With Woodson taking snaps at safety in the base defense and Jarrett Bush taking Woodson's spot at cornerback thus far in camp, Hayward is in a battle with third-year pro Sam Shields and second-year pro Davon House for the next backup spot. House was lauded by McCarthy after Saturday's practice for his improvement this offseason.
Three: Position of the Day
With three tight ends out due to injury, including starter Jermichael Finley, who continues to deal with a mild concussion, the other tight ends are making the most of their increased opportunities. A day after discussing with the media how he trained for this season by wrestling cows, second-year pro D.J. Williams made some nice catches in traffic, looking every bit the prospect the Packers thought he would be coming out of Arkansas.
"Both him and Ryan Taylor are much stronger, moving better, more athletic," said McCarthy. "I see it in their balance. They're not getting knocked off their feet. And it's probably more that they have a clearer understanding of their role. They're both very competitive and very much a part of our special teams units. You look at the linebackers and tight ends and the amount of work that they have during the course of a practice, there's not another position that takes as many reps as those guys. Those guys really have a hard work load for their particular body type. You know, 250 pounds for as much running and the number of reps they go through."
A year ago at the conclusion of training camp, the Packers kept five tight ends on their roster. Taylor was one of the big surprises and is all but a lock to make the team now because of his special teams play.
It is unlikely the Packers would keep five tight ends this season, especially with so many talented receivers on the roster. But four could be a possibility if Andrew Quarless starts the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list. Quarless is recovering from a serious knee injury suffered in a game against the Giants in Week 13.
Linebacker Clay Matthews on being a mentor to rookie linebacker Nick Perry: "I think it's a natural progression, especially at my position bringing in another outside linebacker. We work in unison, together, so he needs to look for me to give him advice. We're working together on the field a lot, so I need to be a mentor to him, whether I want to or not. But I think that's a natural progression of not only having played the position on the field, but me as far as my maturation and going into my fourth year."
Perry on position coach Kevin Greene: "Just being around him, hip-to-hip, he shows me certain things that I may not have been aware of or things I need to start to visualize more so I'm ready for things. My whole issue is just seeing things in a bigger picture. Playing defensive end, you're single-minded on the tackle. Now, you have to see everything, you have to have your head on a swivel, and playing linebacker, you have to do that. There's no way around it. So it's helping."
Graham Harrell on his relationship with Rodgers: "He's extremely helpful. Since Day 1 that I've been here, and you guys have been here with us, he's been unbelievable, as far as trying to help out and trying to teach little things that can help that he's picked up over the years. He does it better than anyone. So, having a chance to learn from him is as good of an opportunity as any young quarterback could ask for. I feel like any young quarterback, and especially myself, is fortunate to be here and glad I get to learn under him."
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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org