Healthy Dose of Peppers Could Cure Defense

In a defense shrouded with questions, most of the answers are "staying healthy" and "Julius Peppers." If Peppers can turn back the clock and allow coordinator Dom Capers to get creative, Green Bay's defense could take the necessary steps to make the Packers a contender again.

Inside linebacker was considered one of the Green Bay Packers' positions of need for this month's draft.

Ultimately, the Packers didn't address that position.

So, naturally, the first package defensive coordinator Dom Capers had on the field for Thursday's organized team activity featured three inside linebackers.

"Less scheme, more packages" will be the phrase that pays for Green Bay's underperforming defense.

Really, the buzzword will be "if."

The Packers could field a championship defense ...

— If Clay Matthews can stay healthy.

— If Julius Peppers can turn back the clock a couple years and provide a formidable one-two pass-rushing punch with Matthews.

— If Casey Hayward can stay healthy and return to the form that saw him intercept six passes as a rookie in 2012.

— If Mike Daniels can take another step after producing 6.5 sacks in 2013.

— If Datone Jones can take a dramatic step forward after an ankle injury ruined his rookie season.

— If HaHa Clinton-Dix has a solid rookie season and Morgan Burnett rebounds from a ho-hum 2013.

The Packers' defensive changes are considered top-secret information. Capers rolled out several new packages on Thursday but reporters are not allowed to detail them, for obvious reasons.

The changes, however, excite Matthews.

"Yeah, it really does, especially coming back this offseason and coming in here a little early before we started and talking with Dom and Mike (McCarthy) and (linebackers coach) Winston Moss with the plans they see me having this year and the type of player they see me becoming, I think it's great the changes that we're putting in, not only with the personnel, the scheme. I'm really looking forward to it. I think it's a shot in the arm and will provide kind of a little rejuvenation to this team, especially to the defensive side of this locker room. I'm really looking forward to it and hopefully it will present some problems for opponents."

Peppers, even at age 34, faces lofty expectations. In a three-down sequence, it certainly wouldn't be out of the question for him to play defensive end on first down, outside linebacker on second down and a pass-rushing defensive tackle on third down.

"I think he brings versatility," Capers said. "He's obviously a talented athlete. He's been in here learning the system. To tell you the truth, this is an ongoing thing with us right now. To me, this time of the year you're trying to figure out who your best football players are and you design what you're going do around those best football players. We have an awful lot of packages. He'll be used in a lot of different ways. Probably how many of those packages is based off of how well guys pick it up and how well they perform in those packages. But you have to have enough flexibility to where a guy like him, he can rush, he can drop, he's a flexible athlete. He can do a lot of different things for you."

The one-two punch of Matthews and Peppers could be double trouble for opposing offenses. Imagine Matthews on one side of the formation and Peppers on the other. Or, imagine them working in tandem. Matthews has never had a sidekick like Peppers, and Peppers has never had a sidekick like Matthews.

"I haven't really played with a guy like Clay, really my whole career," Peppers said. "Early in my career, I played with a guy, Mike Rucker, who was a threat on the other side. But like a really dominant player on the outside, I really haven't had that ever. I'm excited to get out there with him and see what he can do."

Even with Matthews missing five games (and limited in several others) due to his broken (and re-broken) thumb, the Packers tied for eighth in the league in sacks. Just imagine Capers rolling out some combination of Matthews, Peppers, Nick Perry, Mike Neal, Mike Daniels and Datone Jones on third-and-10, with proven interceptors like Tramon Williams, Sam Shields and Hayward in coverage.

"We've got all the packages," Capers said. "It's just going to be which ones work and which ones we think will be best to best utilize our personnel. I think you make a mistake if you just try to take your guys and fit them into a defense, you have to take your defense and fit it around the guys. That's what we're kind of going through right now."

If the Packers can stay healthy, Capers can roll out all sorts of packages that he had to keep in mothballs last year due to injuries to Matthews, Perry and Hayward. Capers admitted to being "vanilla" last year, but the injuries forced him in that direction. If Peppers can summon some game-changing plays from his aging body, it might be the difference between winning and losing a playoff game like last year's loss to San Francisco.

If enough of the "if's" swing in Green Bay's favor, who knows what could be in store.

"I think the way it's gone and how we haven't got it done in the playoffs, especially the last couple years — two, three years — there has to be a sense of urgency and a sense to find a way to get it right," inside linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "We're not going to win a Super Bowl right now — not in May — but you can take a step back. We don't want to do that. We want to move forward. Of course, adding a guy like Julius (and) we have young guys who have more experience. We brought in a lot of great rookies. It's looking good right now, but it's up to us to put it together once we get on the field and start playing."

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

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