Defense plans on turning up the heat

Because of scheme and personnel, the Packers hint they'll be blitzing more in 2008.

It's not quite a chicken-or-the-egg question, but the Packers' penchant for blitzing during organized team activities and minicamp begs one question: Are the Packers getting ready to bring the heat this season, or are they only getting Aaron Rodgers ready for the heat he's bound to be facing as a first-year starting quarterback?

Judging by the players' comments, the Packers plan to be more aggressive defensively this season. That's likely a necessity. The Packers recorded 32 sacks in the first 11 games but just eight in the final seven, even though defensive coordinator Bob Sanders called more blitzes late in the season to help offset injuries to his linemen.

Just as importantly is the personnel. Their best interior pass rusher, Corey Williams, was traded to Cleveland. Without Williams and his seven sacks, the up-the-middle pressure could be lacking. Ryan Pickett is superb against the run but doesn't have much of a pass rush. Either Johnny Jolly or Justin Harrell will replace Williams, and neither showed an ounce of pass-rush skills last season — Jolly got the only sack between them.

"We're working on some things, but I don't want to give away too much on the new packages we've been working on," linebacker Nick Barnett said.

Add together the aggressive bump-and-run coverage scheme the defense employs, the lack of pressure put on quarterbacks late last season, personnel issues and the age and health of pass-rush specialist Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila — he'll turn 31 on Sept. 24 and is coming off knee surgery — and adding more and more complicated blitzes seems to be logical.

"It really is our philosophy," coach Mike McCarthy said after Tuesday's practice. "You just look at the way we play defense from Day 1 that we've been here, just the way we line up our defensive players. We're an inside leverage, attack the offense, ability to choke an offense when we're playing at a high level.

"You're seeing players that are now very comfortable in the base concepts of that defense, and the pressure packages have expanded more in how we're using different personnels as opposed to how many different types of pressures we're coming with.

"The most important thing is to put pressure on the quarterback."

Assuming that's the direction this defense is heading, the likely source would be from the linebackers. With Barnett flanked by 2006 No. 5 overall draft pick A.J. Hawk and either the aggressive Brady Poppinga or newcomer Brandon Chillar, the Packers have the personnel to get after opposing quarterbacks — and the ability to cover for each other when one blitzes.

"We have a great group of linebackers," Barnett said. "So much depth, so much talent and (so much) hunger in this crew. I can't wait to see what we will do. You only see so much in minicamp. When training camp comes, we'll put the pads on and really start shooting bullets. That's what we're looking forward to."

Hawk echoes Barnett's excitement.

"I think any linebacker would tell you he wants to blitz, he wants to make big plays, he wants to get interceptions and some (tackles for losses)," he said. "With all the guys we have on this defense, it's going to be fun to see what the coaches come up with. That's why when training camp rolls around, we'll all going to be pretty excited."

Another player who could factor is hard-hitting safety Atari Bigby. Bigby had two sacks in the preseason, but his number was almost never called by Sanders during the regular season and playoffs.

"Whether it comes with four-man, five-man, six-man rushes or pressures, it's irrelevant. The bottom line is to get it done," McCarthy said.

"The bottom line is, pressure doesn't just come through blitzes. We've done a very good job in segments of our season of getting after the quarterback with just a four-man rush. If we can continue to do that, great. If we need five, we'll blitz five. The point is to get that quarterback on his heel, throwing off his back foot, and disrupting the timing of the passing game."

Steve Lawrence is a frequent contributor to E-mail him at

Packer Report Top Stories