Lombardi: Defense is Packers' great mystery

In recent days I have written about the offensive line and Brett Favre. I am waiting to write about Javon Walker. I want to give him as much time as possible to come to his senses and give up on this absurd holdout. I was going to write about Cletidius Hunt, but what is there to say about him that the word "lazy" will not cover. So given that there is not a whole lot going on in Packer land, that leaves only one topic and that is the state of the defensive unit.

It is very dangerous for people in my position to attempt and predict how a team will do before seeing them play one down, but that is the name of the game here. Last year, it looked like the defense would at least be as good as it was in 2003. The Packers went into camp last year having lost no key players from the defense. They had added Mark Roman, Joey Thomas and Ahmad Carroll to what was a serviceable unit. They were going to have Grady Jackson for the whole year, and Nick Barnett was entering his second year. All signs pointed to improvement. Ed Donatell had taken the bullet for the loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the playoffs, and Bob Slowik had installed an attacking defense that was designed to pressure the quarterback, make big plays and create turnovers.

Things unraveled quickly. Carroll and Thomas were not ready to play, Roman underperformed, and Mike McKenzie got a case of the stupids and held out. Slowik's system was quickly abandoned when it became clear that the personnel could not execute it satisfactorily. Jackson got hurt and Darren Sharper began to show his age.

This season has the same feel as pre-training camp 2004. There is a new coordinator, Jim Bates, who has a great resume and an aggressive manner. The draft has brought on some young players with apparent promise. Sharper has departed for the land of 10,000 lakes and Bates brought safety Arturo Freeman in to run the defense. Big things are expected from the second-year players and a new and improved effort from the returning veterans will all add up to a better result in the fall. That is what Ted Thompson and Mike Sherman are counting on.

Whether all of this will come to fruition is a mystery. Injuries and holdouts and other distractions may all lead down the same road as before. We may be sitting here in October knowing that if the Packers are to win, they will have to outscore their opponents. That, of course, is the wrong way to win. Championships are won on the back of the defense.

I know Jim Bates. He was a coach in Cleveland when I went there as a lowly scouting assistant in 1993. Mike Sherman should be credited with hiring him. Bates has the knowledge and spirit to accomplish great things with this team, but as usual, it will come down to the breaks of the game. There will be very few times where the Packers make tactical mistakes and the frequency of poor play calling will almost disappear. It all comes down to execution and if these players can make the plays, then the defense will keep the Pack in the game. They will be coached right and will be prepared, but the season is on their shoulders.

John Lombardi

Editor's note: John Lombardi is the grandson of legendary coach Vince Lombardi. John resides with his family in Green Bay . His football experience includes stints with two teams in the World League (now NFL Europe); in the scouting departments of the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans; and graduate assistant coach and director of football operations at Vanderbilt. He will be contributing columns for PackerReport.com.

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