'Put Your Big-Boy Pads On and Let's Rock'

Are the Packers physical? Maybe or maybe not, but the daily combo drill breeds physicality and attitude on a defense that's been shredded on the ground the past three seasons. "You step up in that drill and you find out who truly the big dogs on the block are," Kevin Greene said.

Nobody enjoys the half-line drills more than Kevin Greene.

"I'm addicted to the physical part of the game, you know, so I like to see my kids kick the snot out of people," the Green Bay Packers' outside linebackers coach said.

Over the last three seasons, the Packers have ranked near the bottom of the league in yards per carry on offense and yards allowed per carry on defense. As a response, coach Mike McCarthy has made the half-line drill, or combo drill, a staple of training camp.

It's football at its blood-and-guts core. On offense, it's a tackle, guard, center and guard, with a fullback and tight end leading the way for the running back. On defense, it's three defensive linemen (or two and a safety), two inside linebackers and an outside linebacker.

Let the better unit win.

"It's a tempo setter and it's an attitude check," Greene said. "You step up in that drill and you find out who truly the big dogs on the block are. As far as outside backers are concerned, we're not involved in pass rush and our minds are not focused on coverage drops or scheme or who am I looking at. This is playing the run, which is the basis of football. You have to stop the run first to do anything. For us, it's clear your mind, put your big-boy pads on, put your mouthpiece in and let's rock. I love it. I love it."

The Packers can talk until they're blue in the face in countering the claim that they're not a physical team, but the combo drill is about playing physical and playing with attitude.

Said defensive end C.J. Wilson, the premier run-stopper of the unit: "It's all about attitude. No. 1, it's attitude. It's attitude and effort and technique. All that stuff is good but it's more about attitude and getting after it."

Whether it was penalties a few years ago or bad tackling in 2011, the Packers typically have solved their problems under McCarthy. It's been just one preseason game — and against a lower-rung team, at that — but the rush defense was a strength against the Cardinals.

"It's rough. It's real intense," nose tackle Ryan Pickett said of the drill. "We get a lot out of it. It obviously helps us with our run game. This first preseason game, they averaged like 2.6 yards per rush. They want us to stop the run and they want us to be able to run, so that's why he added that drill."

In the drill, there's no passing. No trick plays. No gimmicks. The defense knows that the offense is going to run the ball, and the offense knows that the defense knows that the offense is going to run the ball.

"We're not really concerned about where the running back is going to hit," defensive end B.J. Raji said. "Obviously, if the running back cuts back, he's going to cut back into nothing (since there's no outside linebacker on the weak side), so we're more concerned about our pad level, our strike, our disengage. When the whole O-line is there, everyone has a responsibility, but in that drill, we're not really concerned about where the running back hits because we're more concerned about how we're playing, how physical we're playing and how well we're getting off blocks."

Like Pickett, Raji pointed to the results against the Cardinals as a sign the drill was producing the desired results. Arizona's first four possessions against Green Bay's starters or a mix of starters and backups managed six rushes for 12 yards.

"Let's face it: No one looks forward to (the drill) constantly but after you watch how well we played against the run last week, you see how important it is and how it's paid off," Raji said. "It will only help us going forward. I think the competition has helped both sides of the line. The offensive line has benefited from it and I think we've benefited from going up against those guys."

In 2009, the Packers led the NFL in rushing defense for the first time in franchise history. Since then, they allowed 4.7 yards per carry in 2010, 4.7 in 2011 and 4.5 in 2012. Those numbers are skewed a bit because of their reliance on their nickel package, but if they can't stop the run and get into third-and-long situations, then defensive coordinator Dom Capers can't dive into his extensive blitz package.

"That's the first thing that Dom starts with," Pickett said. "We have to stop the run this year. That's it. That's where we start. That's where the whole defense starts. If we can't stop the run, we can't do all that other stuff that we have in our bag."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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