Clearly, Bates has a major challenge. All he has to do is try to turn around a defense rated one of the worst in the league a year ago (25th overall) with personnel, that on paper, does not appear all that overly impressive.
Sure, the Packers have one of the top sackers in the league in Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, a steady veteran in Na'il Diggs, and a potential Pro Bowler in Nick Barnett, but the Packers made no major moves to upgrade their defensive personnel for this season. That should be of some concern to Packers' fans.
Instead, the Packers made a coach, Bates, their top free agent pickup this off-season. Though he will not make plays on the field for the team, he is arguably the Packers' best off-season acquisition on defense since the signing of Reggie White in 1993. He has the experience (15 years as an NFL assistant), a proven track record of consistency, and the enthusiasm to, at the least, have the Packers' maligned defensive unit believing they can be a good one.
Bates wasted no time getting to work in Green Bay after being hired on Jan. 31. He diligently examined his personnel of a season ago on tape and used two off-season mini-camps to start implementing his system. Bates was easy to find on the practice field in his first practices with the Packers. Even at 59 years old, he was sprinting and running all over the field while shouting instructions louder than any other coach.
"That's just the way I coach. Hopefully, in a positive way," said Bates. "I'm just trying to get them going. That's the way I coach, that's my personality, that's the way I've coached for 35 years."
Bates, however, is more than just a show at practice. He used the mini-camps to not only implement his system, but also to drive home the importance of improving in the areas of tackling, tackling angles, and technique. He was clearly tuned in to, with his off-season evaluations, those areas where the Packers were deficient a year ago.
Just Bates' energy and knowledge alone, however, will not make the Packers a top 10 defense. They will need players to step up and play better. It is likely that the Packers will be ranked somewhere in the middle of the NFL in total defense, but Bates will surely have his defense believing they can play well when training camp concludes. The same cannot be said for last year's unit headed into last season.
Defensive end Aaron Kampman, among others, was already feeling the difference after the June minicamp.
"I think he brings energy," he said of Bates. "I think he cares about his defense… I really like the style. I think it will be helpful for us."
In Miami over the past five seasons, Bates coached defenses that were rated among the top 10 in the league each season. More importantly, he and his players carried the attitude that they could win ball games on their own when the Dolphins' offense struggled.
In Green Bay, Bates will not have to worry about dealing with a struggling offense. The Packers' offense is again expected to be among the top in the league, and the defense could feed off of that. If that is the case, then the Packers will have something to build on.
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.