Optimism Rides on Winds of Defensive Change

Despite months of public practices, it might be the best-kept secret in football: What will Green Bay's defense look like against Seattle on Thursday night? “We’re as excited as probably a lot of Packers fans are to watch it,” linebacker A.J. Hawk said.

The new-look Green Bay Packers defense will be unleashed on Thursday night at Seattle.

With all 32 teams having undefeated records, optimism is sky-high all across the league this time of year. Still, for the defensive players in the Green Bay locker room who were part of the season-long debacle that was 2011, the playoff embarrassment at San Francisco in 2012 and the injury-ravaged disappointment of 2013, there is a profound belief that this year could be different.

That’s because of schematic changes that rightly have been deemed top secret and not fit for reporting.

“We’re as excited as probably a lot of Packers fans are to watch it,” linebacker A.J. Hawk said of the defense after Monday’s practice. “We’ve been sitting here talking about this game and this season and what we’re going to do and adding Julius (Peppers) and HaHa (Clinton-Dix) and all the other young guys, and we want to see it, too. We know what we’re capable of and we need to find a way to bring it to the field in the first real game. We’re ready and we’re anxious, for sure.”

Coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers have been forced to walk a fine line since the start of organized team activities in May. The team traditionally has allowed fans and reporters to watch offseason and training camp practices, but there was work to be done. So, for anyone who paid close attention to the practices waged on Ray Nitschke Field, they have an idea of the changes drawn up by Capers. Those changes, however, were kept under wraps for the preseason games to prevent the secrets from being viewed on television or by opposing scouts watching from the press box.

Now, Capers can throw some unscouted looks at Russell Wilson and the Seattle offense.

“I think we’re real excited,” linebacker Clay Matthews said. “We came off a real good preseason which we got better each and every week but, ultimately, we were going against some very bland (offenses), as well as the play-calling we had out there. It’ll be fun to see. I know, as I’ve seen over the years and as Dom has shown, we keep a multitude of defenses and schemes and formations, and this is a team that presents the very same problems (offensively), so we’ll look to unleash it in Week 1 and hopefully it works in our favor.”

The key to it all, of course, is Matthews, but he is being freed up by the addition of Peppers. For Capers, it wasn’t as easy as putting Peppers at outside linebacker and having him do everything that Nick Perry or Mike Neal had been doing.

“I think the biggest challenge in this league is always figuring out who your best guys are and try to adjust what you’re doing,” said Capers, who remained tight-lipped when asked even generic questions about the changes. “To try to plug guys into a system, I think you make a mistake, so you’ve got to try to adjust your system to the people you have. Obviously, we’ve got some new people. We’ve tried to adjust what we’re doing to best utilize those people that we have.”

Due to personnel and schematic changes, cornerback Tramon Williams said the defense is “head over heels” better than it was last season. That’s obvious from a personnel standpoint. For Week 1 of last season, Peppers was playing for the Bears, Casey Hayward was sidelined by a hamstring injury and M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian were the starting safeties.

Now, Peppers is starting at outside linebacker, Hayward is healthy and the Packers have four safeties better than last year’s starting tandem.

“The real bullets start to fly now,” Williams said. “You’re going to get everyone’s best. You’re going to get looks that you haven’t seen yet. You’re going to get looks that you have seen. You have to prepare for what you’ve seen and expect what you haven’t seen pretty much at this point.”

And that goes for the Seahawks, too.

“Yeah,” Williams said with a smile. “No doubt about it.”

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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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