Fan Fest: Capers says flexibility key

From fitting his scheme to the players to the weight of Aaron Kampman, the new defensive coordinator speaks to an enthralled crowd on Saturday at Lambeau Field.

He was the man of the hour at this early hour on Saturday.

New Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers drew a large and engrossed crowd at Fan Fest on Saturday morning, then went over many of the same issues with reporters afterward.

Generally, inquiring minds wanted to know how the Packers would adapt to the 3-4 defense Capers is charged with installing. Capers, as he has said throughout his seven weeks on the job, said he'd fit his scheme to the players rather than force the players to fit into his scheme.

"Over the years, everybody has a lot of flexibility in their defense," Capers said. "I think you make a big mistake if you don't have enough flexibility in your defense. It has to be the players first. You figure out who your best players are, and then you adapt your defense to what they do the best."

Specifically, they wanted to know about Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Kampman, who is moving to outside linebacker. Capers said Kampman would be a great player in "any defense."

"In my conversations with him, he kind of reminds me of Kevin Greene," Capers, in answering a fan's question, said of the intense Kampman and the equally intense outside linebackers coach. "So, that will be a good marriage."

The Kampman questions continued with reporters just down the hallway. Capers said Kampman was the first player he talked to after being named defensive coordinator on Jan. 19.

"I think Aaron's excited about it, and we're excited about Aaron," Capers said. "Aaron's a good football player. He certainly has all those intangible qualities that you'd look for, and to me, you can't underestimate those things. They're going to have everything down from an assignment and technique standpoint, and they're going to give great effort."

According to Capers, one of the things Kampman wanted to know was whether he needed to cut his weight from last year's 265 pounds. Capers' answer: Whatever makes you comfortable.

"You know better than anybody else the weight you can move the best. You have to have strength and movement," Capers said. "To have me say, ‘I want you at this weight,' I think that's wrong. Everybody has a natural weight they're going to be the best at. A player knows that. He knows what he's played at and knows what his movement capabilities have been. To me, it's whatever he feels the best."

The transition from 4-3 to 3-4 takes its first steps beginning Monday with the start of the offseason program. The players won't be on the field, but they'll be meeting with coaches and watching film to begin the education process. Linebacker Desmond Bishop, for instance, said the defensive playbook was about 5 inches thick.

Participation in the offseason program has been strong under coach Mike McCarthy, and that needs to be the case this year, as well. The goal is to put everything in place during these next few weeks, the voluntary organized team activities (May 26 through June 18) and the mandatory minicamp (June 23-25) so the players are going over everything for a second time when training camp begins in late July. It's a tall order.

"If a player's not here, he'll see it's going to be a big challenge to catch up on some things," Capers said. "There's no question it will be an advantage to the guys who are here taking it day by day."

While these offseason workouts are important, they won't decide who takes the field when the season kicks off in more than five months. As Capers explained, the key element on defense is stopping the run.

"It's hard to evaluate that until you get the pads out here in training camp," he said. "What's your ability to beat a block and get off a block and go make a tackle? You can't tell that when you're out there in shorts. You can tell guys' athletic ability, you can tell their mental capabilities and all of those things, but come Sunday, it's a physical game, and certain guys' stock goes up once the pads go on."

The fate of the season probably lies on Capers' success in teaching his scheme to a defense that was gutted at critical situations last season. Where that defense failed last season, it must succeed this season.

"It's a fine line," Capers said. "We all know these games come down to one, two or three plays. Our challenge to the players is going to be, ‘What are we going to do that's going to give us a chance to be as good as we can be?' We've got to set the bar high and consistently work to that standard."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine 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. Bill also is giving Twitter a try. Find him at twitter.com/packerreport


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