With Mike Nolan in Green Bay to meet with coach Mike McCarthy on Thursday, you wonder if this is an interview or a coronation.
By now, you know the relationship McCarthy has with Nolan, whose interview was reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Those ties made Nolan the No. 1 candidate to replace Bob Sanders as defensive coordinator from the start, according to our sources.
Nolan's allegiance to the 3-4 defense, however, begs some serious questions. And the answers to those questions no doubt will be of major interest to general manager Ted Thompson.
— First, the Packers' defensive personnel is based on the 4-3 scheme.
— Second, arguably the Packers' defensive player is Aaron Kampman, who seems ill-suited for the 3-4. With a defense with as many problems as the Packers displayed this season, would you really want to render one of your marquee performers null and void?
— Third, Thompson and his scouting staff have been putting in countless hours studying the top college talent, and you would assume that study time included finding players to fit Sanders' scheme. Sure, there's more than three months until the draft, but that still would be a lot of wasted man-hours.
— Fourth, since it's almost inconceivable that Nolan (or any other coach who favors the 3-4 defense) would have the right personnel in place for 2009, the upcoming season would seem doomed to mediocrity (or worse) from the start.
— Fifth, while the Packers were the youngest team in the NFL, a few of their key players — namely cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Al Harris, receiver Donald Driver and left tackle Chad Clifton — are getting long in the tooth. Can the Packers really afford to waste another season?
— Sixth, a vocal minority of Packers fans — or perhaps a majority — don't think fondly of Thompson, for reasons ranging from his unwillingness to really open up to the fans, to the Brett Favre saga, to this season's 6-10 pratfall. If the Packers stumble to another losing season in 2009, Thompson's job could be on the line. Remember, Packers President Mark Murphy didn't hire Thompson.
Take these factors into account, and perhaps Nolan is simply one name on McCarthy's list and not the name on the list. Gregg Williams, a proven coordinator who runs a 4-3, interviewed in New Orleans on Thursday and is slated to come to Green Bay, a source told Packer Report. So, perhaps this is not a coronation.
Then again, if Murphy shares the long-term vision shared by Thompson and McCarthy and everyone agrees the 3-4 gives the Packers their best chance at winning a championship, perhaps they'll be given a free pass should 2009 play out like a repeat of 2008.
Teams running 3-4 defenses have quite a track record in recent years, including three Super Bowls from Bill Belichick's New England Patriots and one Super Bowl title and a parade of top-five defenses from Pittsburgh. Three other playoff teams, Baltimore, San Diego and Miami, run 3-4 defenses, with the Chargers and Ravens boasting perennially strong units.
What's perhaps more impressive is how the Patriots and Steelers have consistently had superb defenses while losing top talent in free agency. And to top it off, the Dolphins went 1-15 in 2007 while running a 4-3 defense, then jumped to 11-5 in 2008 while running a 3-4.
Why? Simply, it is easier to find talent to run a 3-4 than it is to run a 4-3.
"If you run a 3-4 defense, it's easy in the sense that you can draft the best athlete rather than fitting a specific need for a 4-3," Scout.com draft analyst Chris Steuber said. "When you run a 3-4, you have the ability to manage hybrid defenders much better and use them to their strengths. More and more, you see these undersized defensive ends in college and when I analyze them, the first thing I envision is how good they would look in a 3-4 defense."
Whatever happens, this is a defining hire for McCarthy and Thompson. Make the right move, and 2008 can be written off as a blip on the radar and McCarthy and Thompson can regain their status as one of the NFL's top leadership duos. Make the wrong move, and 2007 will be written off as a fluke and McCarthy and Thompson will be updating their resumes.
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DC search: Is Nolan right fit?
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