Dom Capers comes to Green Bay with no preconceived notions.
Capers' answer is refreshing. If the scheme doesn't fit his best players, he'll fit his scheme to them.
"I think you make a tremendous mistake if you come in and say you have a cookie-cutter 3-4 defense and this is what we're going to be and try to fit your personnel to that," the Green Bay Packers' new defensive coordinator told reporters on Tuesday morning. "I think you fit your defense and have enough flexibility in your defense to fit it to the personnel you have, and you evolve from there."
Capers' willingness to adjust on the fly will be a critical facet as the Packers make the difficult and, perhaps, protracted, change from the 4-3 to 3-4. While coach Mike McCarthy on Monday said he thought he had the personnel in place to run the 3-4, that's probably at least a little wishful thinking. For the first year, the transition will require Capers fitting some square pegs into round holes.
The 58-year-old Capers, however, is known as one of the brightest defensive minds in the game. While Kampman might not be a perfect fit in a 3-4 defense because he's too small to play end and doesn't have any experience to handle the coverage responsibilities asked of an outside linebacker, Capers knows Kampman's career-long production — he has 37 sacks over his last three seasons — trumps any questions about his measurables.
"I know Aaron Kampman has been a very good football player and has had a lot of production," Capers said. "I think the No. 1 thing you do is you try to adapt what you are doing to your good football players. If a guy is a good football player, we're going to find a way to use him. You take it and you say, ‘Hey, if these are our 11 best football players, let's adapt what we are doing to get those 11 best football players out there because they give you the best chance of winning.'"
With that in mind, it appears the Packers' reliance for playing press coverage with their cornerbacks under former coordinator Bob Sanders won't be thrown aside. Assuming veteran Al Harris returns to line up with Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams, Green Bay's cornerbacks likely will continue to get up close and personal with opposing receivers.
It just won't be a staple of Capers' defense, and his reasoning is in sharp contrast to Sanders, who used press coverage on practically every snap.
"I think you've got to be able to mix your coverage," Capers said. "I just don't think that there's anybody good enough in this day and age to just sit in one thing with the multiplicity of the offenses that you see. So, I think you have to be able to change it up, and it's got to be a combination of pressure, coverage and disguise and not letting people know exactly what you're doing. Because I don't care who you are, how good you are, if they know exactly what you're doing, you're going to have problems stopping them."
While Capers made his name as architect of the "Blitzburgh" defenses as coordinator in Pittsburgh from 1992 through 1994 — and McCarthy hired Capers in part because of his zone-blitz and pressure packages — Capers' thoughts on blitzing run parallel to his thoughts on coverage. The key is to not be predictable.
"To me, you've got to take what you think is going to give you the best chance of being successful," Capers said. "Now, I can tell you this: I used to smile because the last year in Pittsburgh, we were known as Blitzburgh, and we came out of a couple of games where we had given up one touchdown or seven points and basically all you heard about was you didn't blitz.
"Well, you do what you feel you have to do to try to win the game. And some people were better at picking up the blitz, and to me it's foolish if you know that people are going to protect and they are sound in their protection just to keep bringing pressure and isolate your guys in one-on-one coverage. Now, part of the element is if they think you are coming with pressure and you can double their receivers, you're going to give your front guys more time to get there."
Unpredictability will be the key in all facets of Capers' defense. It will be a far cry from Sanders' scheme, which was predicated on his players being better than their players. If Capers can work his magic in Green Bay like he's done in Pittsburgh, Carolina and Jacksonville, his scheme can be the difference between 6-10 and 10-6.
"That's why you have to have a combination of things where you can disguise, you can show pressure and come out of it," Capers said. "You try to hit them with pressure when they are not expecting it, because if they are expecting you to pressure every down, then they are going to just sit in there and protect. To me, that's part of the chess match of the game."
Editor's note: In case you missed our coverage on Monday ...
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Lambeau Level forum.
Flexibility will be hallmark of Capers
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