Will the Bates show improve when it counts?

If the Packers had a cable channel called D-TV, the summer programming would have looked like this:

"Draft Dodgers:" In this early-season special, we watched the Pack decline to address their highest need through the draft. QB Aaron Rodgers, whom some thought could have been the No. 1 overall pick, was an understandable investment, but beyond that pick the defense should have been the overwhelming benefactor.

In the second round the Packers did spend the 51st overall pick on safety/cornerback Nick Collins. The rookie turned in a solid preseason and even won a starting job, but with limited collegiate experience at tiny Bethune Cookman, he remains a question mark. Stay tuned.

The good news is that while only half of the draft aided the defense, of those six defensive draftees, five are on the final 53-man roster (Collins, S Marviel Underwood, LB Brady Poppinga, CB Mike Hawkins and DE Michael Montgomery). The other, LB Kurt Campbell, was placed on injured reserve last week.

"Meet the New Boss:" Borrowing a line from the great band The Who, so far new defensive coordinator Jim Bates results have been "the same as the old boss." Is there any hope that the Bates show is saving its surprises for the regular season? Watching the Green Bay defense get shredded by the New England machine and even lesser powers like Buffalo felt a lot like a summer re-run starring Bob Slowik.

The lack of a pass rush, softness against the run and generous to a fault with yards after a catch are all-too-familiar themes for the Packer defense. While watching a porous D can be tedious and trying, at least Ahmad Carroll is still keeping viewers on the edge of their seats wondering if he will draw a flag. The much-promised improvement in that area hasn't been realized yet.

"What's my line?" The depth chart doesn't reveal wholesale changes to a defense which ranked 25th in the league and 13th in the NFC in 2004. The defensive line has been left with the challenge to simply step it up. The secondary, the source of the most hand-wringing, does have some new blood to challenge the incumbents. At linebacker the Packers have an interesting combination of quality and question marks. Ray Thompson went from top of the depth chart to cutting room floor over the weekend. That means Green Bay is counting on rookies Brady Poppinga, a fourth-rounder from BYU, and Roy Manning, an undrafted free agent out of Michigan to fill a void.

"'Tis Better to Give than to Receive:" The defense cannot be held responsible for the sins of the offense when it comes to turnovers. However, an insatiable hunger for takeaways was one of the trademarks of the late Fritz Shurmur's great defenses of the 90s. So far, the 2005 Pack isn't getting that job done. Green Bay had a turnover margin of minus-4 in the preseason, 26th in the league. Along these same lines, the Packers yielded 78 preseason points. That puts them in the bottom half of the league.

Likewise, Green Bay produced only six sacks, while allowing 12. Again, it shouldn't be a poor reflection on the Packers' defense that the patchwork offensive line let their QB down on a dozen occasions. Regardless of what the offensive line can do, the D-line and supporting cast has to be more productive or opposing QBs are going to continue to have their way with Green Bay.


The ratings are in, and the preseason programming on D-TV wasn't what we anticipated. Before reaching for the remote, however, consider these entries that give the regular-season campaign promise.

"The Young and the Restless:" Green Bay's defense has experienced a youth movement. With the right men in the right places, that has to be a good thing. Collins performed well most of the time, Poppinga made himself heard, and Mike Hawkins might find himself moving up the depth chart if starting CB Al Harris doesn't step it up.

"Talk softly, and carry a big stick:" With credit to Teddy Roosevelt, the Packers may be employed this strategy by default. The biggest defensive prize in this year's free agency crop, Arturo Freeman, was a bust. But GM Ted Thompson may wind up building a defense with some who are not marquee names but are quality players in the long run such as Earl Little. Conversely, the Packers jettisoned a big talker/small producer when they cut Cletidus Hunt this weekend.

"Long and Winding Road:" Green Bay's 2005 path winds through a slew of teams that were sub-par in 2004. Likewise, the NFC North slate offers only one true powerhouse among the trio of opponents – Minnesota. While Chicago has a strong defense and Detroit is definitely improved, these are offenses that the Packer D should be able to handle. With the likes of New England in the preseason rear-view mirror and big challenges such as Baltimore and Seattle waiting way off in the waning weeks, Bates may have time to test his charges against lesser opponents.

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