Changes coming, but how many?

How will Aaron Kampman fare at outside linebacker and can the cornerbacks play zone, and does it matter? After meeting with the new coaching staff on Tuesday, Packer Report publisher Bill Huber weighs in on a couple of the major offseason questions.

There are two schools of thought surrounding coach Mike McCarthy's ambitious change in defensive schemes.

The first is that the Packers are going to go through some serious growing pains next season because they don't have personnel perfectly suited to play in new coordinator Dom Capers' 3-4 defense.

The second is the viewpoint shared by McCarthy and several of his new assistant coaches on Tuesday on the fourth floor of the Lambeau Field Atrium. McCarthy pointed to his offense, which in a black-and-white sense is the West Coast Offense but in a world that's shaded in grays, it's only based on West Coach philosophies but has evolved to match the personnel. While the 3-4 will be the starting point on defense, it's not like it will be lining up that way for 60 snaps per game. Teams frequently have to get out of their base defense because of short-yardage and passing situations.

"When you look at the National Football League — just like the game on Sunday — Pittsburgh was half the time, three-quarters of the game, not in a 3-4 look," new defensive line Mike Trgovac said

So, maybe the great Aaron Kampman debate is a moot point. McCarthy on Tuesday confirmed what almost everyone had figured out that Kampman, who had 37 sacks over the last three seasons from his left defensive end position, is moving to outside linebacker.

But with McCarthy and Capers hinting the defense might play some 4-3 at times and because defenses play so many sub-packages based on down and distance, Kampman's role might not change as much as it appears on the surface.

"Aaron's a good football player," Trgovac said. "He'll play in this defense. We'll find a spot for him in this defense. He's just a good football player."

The great secondary debate might wind up being a bit overblown, too. The Packers' corners have played bump on the vast majority of snaps since 2005, when Jim Bates was hired as coordinator. While that certainly will change under Capers — who says no team, no matter how talented, can afford to be predictable — that doesn't mean that aggressive style will be bumped aside.

The new coaches in the secondary, cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr. and safeties coach Darren Perry, said the defense is flexible enough to play both man and zone coverage. While Capers is an architect of the blitz-heavy Pittsburgh defense that plays primarily zone, Baltimore's 3-4 defense utilizes mostly man coverage. The key, all of the coaches say, is to match the scheme to the players' strengths, and there's little doubt that cornerbacks Al Harris, Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams have been better in man than zone coverage.

Nonetheless, there are significant hurdles to clear before the 2009 season kicks off in a little more than seven months. The defensive line was a weakness last year and remains one at this early point in the offseason. Kampman, with his skills, pride and work ethic, will be fine at outside linebacker, but he doesn't have a bookend. Who will emerge at inside linebacker between Nick Barnett, A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop, and will Barnett even be healthy because of a season-ending knee injury?

The 3-4 defense works because the aggressive scheme translates into sacks and turnovers. Aside from Kampman, the Packers didn't have any impact players among their front seven last year. Can scheme alone change that?

McCarthy thinks it might.

"I view offensive and defensive football through the quarterback position," McCarthy said. "I think to be successful on offense, you need to run the football and protect the quarterback. That makes the quarterback successful and it makes the offense successful. I view it the same way defensively. You need to get after the quarterback, and the best way to get after the quarterback is to stop the run first and then put pressure on the quarterback. The starting point of these schemes I think is the best way to get to that."

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Lambeau Level forum.


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