Defense: Same players hold key

The Packers ranked 22nd in the NFL in scoring defense in 2008 yet figure to have only two new starters. With the offseason workouts complete, we take a two-picture view of the looming battles, with this piece focusing on the defense.

The Green Bay Packers ranked fifth in the NFL in points scored last season but 22nd in points allowed.

So, it might come as a surprise to know that there could be four new starters on offense — with changes at five positions — compared to only two new few faces on defense.

We'll go into much greater detail with these looming position battles as we get closer to training camp — and the Training Camp Preview edition of Packer Report magazine will include breakdowns on 15 position battles — but for today, here's a Cliff's Notes version of the possible changes on defense.

Defensive overview

Obviously, with the switch in schemes from the Jim Bates/Bob Sanders 4-3 to the Dom Capers 3-4, changes are everywhere on defense. Nonetheless, the Packers will be counting on mostly the same personnel as they have for the last couple of seasons. Barring injuries or a dramatic upset in training camp, Ryan Pickett, Cullen Jenkins, Aaron Kampman, Nick Barnett, A.J. Hawk, Al Harris, Charles Woodson, Nick Collins and Atari Bigby again will be starters.

Among those nine, they've collected 539 starts in a Green Bay uniform — or an average of 60 per player. Bigby has the fewest starts as a Packer with 22. The next-smallest number? Cullen Jenkins' 42 in five seasons.

What does that mean? A, obviously, this is an experienced group, considering the only new faces in the lineup could be first-round picks. B, coach Mike McCarthy is putting a lot of faith in Capers' ability to turn things around through scheme and the players' ability to discard years of working experience in the old system. And C, McCarthy thinks his established players are good, and the "addition" of Jenkins, Barnett and Bigby — who missed a combined 28 starts because of injuries last year — is better than anything available in the free-agent market.

The new faces

B.J. Raji, taken with the ninth pick of the first round, will start at left defensive end. That leaves only one position up for grabs, and that's at right outside linebacker, where Jeremy Thompson will try to hold off first-round pick Clay Matthews III. Thompson did everything right this offseason, and the coaches like how the 270-pounder is big enough to hold up against the run but athletic enough to play zone coverage. Matthews, however, is the more explosive athlete, and the Packers didn't give up second- and third-round draft picks with the intention of having him as little more than a special-teamer.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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