Bates took on a defense that hasn't changed that much from a personnel standpoint from last season. In fact, it has gotten younger with the addition of two rookies in the starting lineup. Free safety Nick Collins has started every game this season, and linebacker Roy Manning started his first game against the New Orleans Saints on Oct. 9.
After holding the Saints to three points and finishing with five take-aways, Green Bay ranked ninth in yards allowed (295.6 per game) and 15th in scoring defense (19.0 points per game).
A big reason for Green Bay's success on defense this year has been the steady improvement from a handful of younger linemen, including defensive tackles Cullen Jenkins, Colin Cole, Corey Williams and Kenny Peterson. Grady Jackson is coming off his best game of the season against the Saints and appears to be getting in better football shape after missing most of preseason because of his sore knees.
The interior of the line, along with ends Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and Aaron Kampman are stopping the run and gradually getting more pressure on quarterbacks. Williams had two sacks and Kenny Peterson his first career sack against the Saints. The linemen also made a handful of tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Jenkins, Cole and Williams are in their second season. Peterson is in his third with the Packers. They all are up-and-comers as far as Bates is concerned.
"With defensive linemen, a lot of guys that I've coached over the years, the third year is when they either jump up, or don't improve and not are going to make it," Bates said. "A lot of guys that we have are second-year guys. It's been very pleasing to watch their progress."
The Packers currently have 12 sacks overall. They finished with 40 last season, led by Gbaja-Biamila's 13.5.
The Packers usually suit up at least seven defensive linemen, sometimes eight, for each game. Bates will rotate the linemen frequently through a game to keep everyone as fresh as possible.
"It all starts upfront with the run-stopping," Bates said. "They're doing a good job with their technique within the system. The pass-rush is improving. Right now, we're right board. We're playing a lot of people on Sundays."
When many doubted that the Packers could improve much along the defensive line this season, Bates is proving that Green Bay will improve with the young players that are on board. Bates insisted during the draft that he has the personnel on hand for the defense to get better. Now, he's showing that the line and rest of the positions can be effective in his scheme.
"If they have the ability and can get in and play at this level, and they have the athleticism, they can improve," Bates said. "That's what's happening right now. We have some decent athletes that enjoy how the game is going for them individually and collectively."
Credit Bates for that success thus far.
Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.