I look at the make-up of this year's defense and I see so much potential if it plays up to its ability which is not carved in stone. I saw the improvement of the defense last year with a bunch of hard-working guys, but I also saw a very vanilla approach to this side of the ball. I liked it, but I didn't think it was good enough and still had too many holes.
Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila was a liability verses the run, even when they would shift him from side to side because the other teams figured how to go after him. Here's how: They would come out in a two tight end set and audible to where he was, therefore, he couldn't hide. Then they would run right at him exposing his weakness which we all know is stopping the run. He can't.
Then there was a weak linebacking group that seemed to do a great job running side to side but when teams ran right at them they got overpowered. Late in the game that seemed to hurt the defense. Then of course how could I mention weakness on defense if I don't bring up Ahmad Carroll. Nothing needs to be said about his lack of ability to be a real starting cornerback in the NFL. But that was then and now is now. This off season as been outstanding for the Green Bay Packers defense and the sky is the limit. The signing of Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett and the drafting of A.J. Hawk could be just what the doctor ordered.
Bob Sanders' biggest problem might be how to get all of these athletes on the field and giving them all roles. He can just play it straight and keep it simple, but I hope he doesn't. Rarely does a defense have this type of youthful speed at almost every position. I hope he turns them loose, especially with the philosophy of Mike McCarthy and Jeff Jagodzinski. They plan on moving the chains by using ball control, but at the same time stretching the field on offense, so I believe the defense can turn up the heat and I surely would if everyone is on the same page. This is how I see it or at least how I hope it will play out. What I am suggesting depends on the ability of Charles Woodson and Al Harris, which is why I am disappointed that neither one have attended the OTA's (organized team activities). If these guys can be shutdown corners and lock themselves on the other teams number one and two receivers and take them out of the game, wouldn't that change everything about the defense? Imagine what type of blitz packages Bob Sanders could use. Not only that but then they could bring down one of the safeties verses the run - either Marquand Manuel or Nick Collins. Talk about getting inside a quarterback's head! He wouldn't know whether the defense was rolling strong-side or weak-side, and that's half the battle. Look at the defensive backfield and the depth.
Even though I don't like Ahmad Carroll as a starter I do think he could play in the nickel or dime package covering the opponents' third or fourth receiver, but if he can't there are other possibilities such as Marviel Underwood. He has looked good at the OTA's. Also, Michael Hawkins seems to have figured it out as well, and we don't know who else will shine when the pads come on, but either way that gives Bob a lot of options doesn't it?
Then when it comes to linebackers this might just be the best group of linebackers that I can remember the Packers having. I know for sure speed-wise it is. All of these guys can run and I believe cover any back out of the backfield as well as most of the tight ends that they will face. But then again the overriding question is how will Bob Sanders use them? The first question I have would be will they move A.J. Hawk to the middle and Nick Barnett to the weak side linebacker, which I think Barnett is more suited for. But either way I believe there will be serious competition in this position for where they will play and how they will be used. Look who is in the mix there: A.J. Hawk, Nick Barnett, Ben Taylor, Roy Manning, Abdul Hodge and last but not least Brady Poppinga. When I look at these guys I have images of how the New England Patriots played the game using their linebackers and how they confused offensive linemen as well as many quarterbacks when it came to who to block as well as who was blitzing. Not only that but with these linebackers have so much speed that even against nickel personnel they could stay in base defense if they wanted to and walk any linebacker over the slot receiver just like Tampa used to do when they had Brooks, Nickerson and Quarles. As I remember, Tampa's defense was pretty good. This linebacking group could be better then Tampa's.
So, as I see it Bob Sanders is sitting in a great position if everyone plays the way the coaches hope they can, but the biggest problem might just be how to play them and that might just be THE BOB SANDERS CHALLENGE!!!!!!!!
Editor's note: Harry Sydney is a former fullback and assistant coach for the Green Bay Packers. If you have a question for Harry, e-mail it to PackerReport.com managing editor Todd Korth at firstname.lastname@example.org, and it will be forwarded to him.