Last week at the Family Night scrimmage, fans had a chance to see players get into position to make a play under somewhat game (3/4 speed under control) conditions. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the young players got their first taste of the game speed in the National Football League. Many didn't get a feel until midway through the half and, unfortunately, for others, never did.
The defensive line is the strongest unit on this team. When was the last time the Packers had a pass rush with just four linemen on a consistent basis? On Saturday night, the guys showed why they have been given so much praise throughout camp. Every lineman had a hand in creating, being part of or making the play. No slackers in this unit. Cullen Jenkins continued to make plays, first round pick Justin Harrell, as he did last week showed off his strength and ability to get to the quarterback.
The D-line is the heart of this team but a few things need to be taken care of first:
FORCE: Several times linebackers and defensive backs, when forcing the run, would come up and give up their body, thus creating a running lane. This week they will work on coming up to the line of scrimmage, squeeze the hole down, get pad level and stand their ground, not allowing the blocker to hook the outside arm but keeping it free to make the tackle.
TACKLING: Back in my day during two-a-days you found out in a hurry who could tackle at the NFL level. The ‘nutcracker,' goal line and short yardage plays were ran every day to test your tackling skills and passion for the game. Coach McCarthy did just that last year in an evening practice after a poor performance. Defensive linemen and linebackers can miss tackles, but when safety Atari Bigby or any defensive back misses a tackle, it's usually six points. It's all about attitude.
FOCUS: Doing your job first will eliminate all mental mistakes. Pittsburgh receiver Santonio Holmes came from the other side of the field to make his 50-yard catch. The defender on that side jumped a shorter route leaving his deep zone open. When a receiver is leaving your area usually someone else is coming in. In zone, you are as deep as the deepest no matter where on the field.
All of the mistakes made by the secondary is correctable.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was the most impressive. In the past when playing with the second unit he would take off and run without hesitation and to me that's not giving your lineman and receivers any faith. Last night his poise in the pocket and only using his scrambling ability when needed is a testament on how hard he worked this off-season to be a better quarterback.
I talked with Rodgers last week and he mentioned that because he is such a perfectionist he worked extremely hard on doing a better job of controlling his emotions, which at times to get the better of him. He's most proud of his fitness level and all the jump roping that he did. His frame is much leaner and his footwork is much quicker. Maturity.
The Pack's first-team offense struggled, but so did the Steelers and many do early in camp. I really would have been worried if the defense looked that bad.
Former safety Johnnie Gray played for the Packers from 1975-84. He was inducted into the Packer Hall of Fame in 1994. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.