Na'il Diggs has been through this before – a new coach, a new scheme, and a new position. Maybe that is why he has handled his latest change so well.
Entering his sixth season with the Packers, Diggs is listed as the team's starting strong-side linebacker, a position he predominantly manned for the first three years of his NFL career. The past two seasons, he moved into more of a play-making role as the weak-side linebacker and performed well. Headed into this season, however, he is not exactly sure yet where he will play.
"I guess I'm both. That's all I know for right now," said Diggs. "I'm just trying to learn the scheme. They're really just two in the same. I needed to know the SAM (strong-side) in the other defense, so it's actually really good that I getting reps at both."
Such lack of identity could cause discontent for a respected veteran, but Diggs seems to take the situation in stride. He has been a rock over his career, regardless of his position switches, and is looking forward to training camp much like he has in the past. He already knows there is more to new defensive coordinator Jim Bates' defense than just the technicalities of where he will play.
"It's all an understanding of the defense," he said.
It is an understanding that Diggs gained more appreciation for during the Packers' off-season mini-camps. Though he is listed at the strong-side (over the tight end) position, he will need to know both outside positions in the new defense. Linebackers on each edge do not necessarily change positions when the opposing tight end motions to the other side. Thus, a strong-side linebacker could fulfill weak-side skills depending on an offensive formation or motion.
What this all spells out is that the Packers are fortunate to have a player like Diggs, who has the talent to play and understand each position well. That will be necessary if the Packers' defense is to improve in the process of utilizing a new system.
Diggs grabbed the starting strong-side position as a rookie in 2000 and has never left the starting lineup. His tackle totals increased in each of his first three seasons at the position, and he proved to be adequate as in pass coverage.
At the weak-side over the past two seasons, Diggs became more of a play-maker and less of a pass defender. He was free more often from holding the point of attack at the line of scrimmage, and self-admittedly, he enjoyed the change. In 2003, his last season under defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, he posted a career-high 123 tackles. When Bob Slowik came aboard with a new defense in 2004, he stayed at the weak-side and continued his consistent play with 116 tackles.
With change expected at the weak-side this season and Nick Barnett counted on to be a leader at middle linebacker, Diggs may be the most important player at the Packers' linebacker position. It just may not be that noticeable in training camp where new faces and Barnett's development will dominate the linebackers talk. Diggs, though, will be able to step in at either position if needed, and the Packers will not miss a beat.
Editor's note: Matt Tevsh lives in Green Bay and is entering his 10th season covering the Green Bay Packers for Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.