Bates key to Packers' D

Bart Starr won five NFL titles, including the first two Super Bowls. Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana each won four Super Bowls. Tom Brady has already has won three Super Bowls, as did Troy Aikman.

What do these quarterbacks have in common besides being cool under pressure in big games? The answer is that their teams had outstanding, if not dominating defenses.

Dan Marino never won a Super Bowl. Do you recall any of the teams he played on having powerful defenses? That takes us to Brett Favre. In 1996, the Packers had the best defense in the NFL. Guess what? They won the Super Bowl. In the Favre era, the Packers have had some teams with solid defenses, but nothing as dominating as that 1996 crew. The 1997 Packer team had a good, but not great defense. The Packers scored 24 points in Super Bowl XXXII. 24 points will usually win a Super Bowl. However, the Packer defense allowed the Broncos 31 points and the Packers lost.

As the Packers approach the 2005 season, Favre's window of getting back to the Super Bowl is shrinking. The team definitely has the offensive weapons to get to the big dance, but the defense looks a lot like Wisconsin swiss cheese. Lots of holes. Head coach Mike Sherman brought in former Dolphins defensive coordinator Jim Bates to run the defense in Green Bay. Bates has an outstanding track record. His Miami teams were regularly a top ten defense in his tenure there. The Packers will need that this year if they realistically want to get to Detroit for the Super Bowl.

Bates' task is daunting. The defensive line has many questions. At defensive end, Bates needs to find a steady pass rushing threat to go with DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. DE Aaron Kampman plays the run very solidly, but the Packers would like to see his pash rush improve. At defensive tackle, there is major concern. DT Cletidus Hunt has yet to prove he was worth the big money the Packers gave him a couple of years back. Hunt's work ethic is very questionable, but it appears that Bates will give him one final chance to succeed in Green Bay. Hunt may even see some time at DE to help the pass rush. Massive DT Grady Jackson is threatening a hold out as he just hired the infamous Drew Rosenhaus to be his agent. The Packers need both Hunt and Jackson focused and motivated for any success this year. Bates has plenty of young potential on the defensive line to push the veterans. Cullen Jenkins, Corey Williams, James Lee, Donnell Washington, Kenny Peterson and others will need to elevate their game to help make Bates' scheme work.

At linebacker the Packers also have many questions. MLB Nick Barnett makes a ton of tackles, but he often is out of position in pass coverage and needs to be more consistent. The OLBs just need to start making plays. OLB Na'il Diggs and OLB Hannibal Navies combined for 1.5 sacks, 0 interceptions and 0 forced fumbles or recovered fumbles in 2004. That is unacceptable in Bates' defense. OLB Raynoch Thompson was brought in to push Navies at his position. Thompson appears to have the edge at this point. Paris Lenon brings depth and special teams expertise, while the Packers are really excited about rookie OLB Brady Poppinga, who can also rush the passer.

The defensive backfield was atrocious in 2004. Gone is S Darren Sharper. The Packers will miss Sharper's ability to make a big play. They won't miss his ability to give up a big play. The safety position is wide open for competiton. Bates brought S Arturo Freeman with him from Miami. Freeman knows Bates' scheme and that would appear to make him a front runner as one of the starters. The Packers also brought in free agent S Earl Little to compete. The team also has S Mark Roman back from last year. Roman missed too many tackles, but Bates has wiped the slate clean for any of the DBs in 2005. Green Bay also has two rookies that will vie for playing time, if not a starter's job. Nick Collins and Marviel Underwood both are fast, hard hitting players that seem to have a nose for the football. At CB, the Packers bring back one very solid player in Al Harris. Harris doesn't have great speed, but has excellent technique. The other CB job is wide open. CB Ahmad Carroll commits too many penalties because of holding problems. CB Joey Thomas appears to have moved ahead of Carroll on the depth chart because of this issue. The Packers like CB Jason Horton and are also very excited about rookie CB Michael Hawkins, who is very raw, but also very talented and quick.

The bottom line is that Bates will have his hands full this year as he tries to improve the Packer defense. Bates has a non-stop motor and that will hopefully motivate his players into making the next step in their NFL careers. The Packers were somewhat quiet on the free agency market this year as they brought in a few modestly priced players. The biggest prize in free agency this year might just be the hiring of Bates. For Favre to see another Super Bowl, the Packers will need Bates to do his magic. The job will be difficult. But Bates seems ready for the challenge with his steady optimism. Time will tell, but if Bates can turn around the play of this squad, the results could be Super.

Editor's note: Bob Fox is a longtime Packers fan and freelance writer from the Tampa, FL area.

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