Scout.com NFL expert Tom Marino has worked with new Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers. And he's certain coach Mike McCarthy hired a guy who's capable of producing a Super Bowl defense.
"Terrific guy. He's very smart. Tom's a real pro," Marino, an NFL scout for more than 30 years, told Packer Report. "He really knows his stuff. He's a great defensive coordinator. Obviously, things never worked out in terms of wins and losses as far as being a head coach (in Houston), but that's not always indicative of how good a coach he is. To me, it all comes down to one thing, and that's talent."
Capers' first NFL job was as a defensive backs coach for the New Orleans Saints from 1986 through 1991. Marino was a scout there during those seasons, and he also worked with Capers in the USFL before that.
Marino lauds Capers' calm under pressure, defensive instincts and preparation skills, calling Capers "a step ahead" of opposing offenses. He made his name as a defensive coordinator in Pittsburgh, then as head coach of the expansion Carolina Panthers, with his aggressive, zone-blitzing defenses.
Under Bob Sanders, the Packers' defense ranked 11th in yards and sixth in points when they reached the NFC title game in 2007. Last year, however, Sanders' unit ranked 20th in yards and 22nd in points.
Most of that talent remains in place, though, and if linebacker Nick Barnett, defensive end Cullen Jenkins and safety Atari Bigby return to form after injury-ruined seasons — and general manager Ted Thompson lands an impact player in the draft and/or through free agency — that group could improve quickly.
"I would be surprised if he's not a big success there," Marino said. "It's going to be a quick turnaround. They had some injuries. They're going to be a good team again next year. Very capable of winning the whole thing, in my mind."
Capers has spent 16 seasons as a coordinator or head coach. Seven times, his defenses ranked in the top 10 in points, but only once this decade. Talent, though, is paramount, and Capers hasn't been blessed with much of it in recent years.
He was head coach of the expansion Houston Texans from 2002 through 2005. Very few decent players were made available in the expansion draft, and general manager Charley Casserly loaded up on offense in his first two rookie classes.
Marino, recalling a wine-filled dinner with new Saints coach Mike Ditka, tells a story to emphasize the importance of talent.
Ditka had just hired Tom Moore as his running backs coach. Moore, who has been Peyton Manning's offensive coordinator in Indianapolis since 1998, arrived in New Orleans after three seasons in Detroit.
"'He'll get that running game going, because he led the league in running offense,'" Marino recalled Ditka saying. "So, I said, ‘That's great, but let me mention one thing to you. The difference is this: That running back, his name is Barry Sanders. Our guy's name is Ray Zellers.' Well, at the end of the year, we finished 31st in rushing and Zellers averaged 2.9 (yards per carry). So, what I'm saying is, they're the same plays they were running over there, but they had Barry Sanders running their plays and we had Ray Zellers."
There are no Barry Sanders-like players on the Packers' defense, but the cupboard isn't bare, even in light of last year's numerous breakdowns. In Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk, Capers has two first-round draft picks to play linebacker. Aaron Kampman, Ryan Pickett and Jenkins are a good start for the defensive line. And Al Harris, Charles Woodson and Nick Collins are Pro Bowlers in the secondary.
Capers provides a proven defensive mind who should earn the immediate respect of the players. Marino calls Capers "adaptable," so he'll probably run some 4-3 and some 3-4 to best use the defensive talent. Adaptability wasn't a strength of Sanders, as evidenced by the lack of adjustments in the NFC title game to the Giants and his inability to create a pass rush last season.
"He's the real deal," Marino said. "There's no on-the-job learning with this guy. He knows his stuff. He's one of the best guys around. This is what he lives for."
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, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Lambeau Level forum.
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