Coach's experience a big asset

Like seven other coaches with the Green Bay Packers, new linebackers coach Mark Duffner has experience as an NFL coordinator. Duffner also possesses experience as a head coach at the collegiate level, but can he prepare a rookie to start in the National Football League?<p>

He's done that as well.

If Torrance Marshall remains as an outside linebacker and backup fullback, Duffner may have the challenge of training a rookie to start at middle linebacker for the 2003 season if the Packers do not pursue a veteran free agent or re-sign Hardy Nickerson.

If Green Bay is unable to land a veteran free agent like Cincinnati's Takeo Spikes, whom Duffner coached the last five seasons, the Packers will lean on his experience to prepare a rookie for immediate action. During Duffner's first season with the Bengals in 1998 he coached four rookie linebackers, who started at various times in the Bengals' 3-4 defense.

Since finding a linebacker is high on the agenda this off-season for Green Bay, chances are Duffner will be working with a draft pick and a number of other younger players as the Packers try to beef up their run-defense. But that doesn't mean the Packers will be able to throw anybody into the fray.

"Because everybody's different it takes them different lengths of time to learn and feel comfortable and be able to utilize the defense they're being taught," said Duffner on Friday.

"If a young man is an instinctive player at any position and they've had good coaching and good background, and they have the proper attitude and work ethic, they have a fighting chance to be a strong player in their rookie year. ... It's an individually related situation."

Marshall was expected to be the heir apparent to Nickerson at middle linebacker but never caught on to the defensive scheme and wound up as a backup behind Na'il Diggs last year. Duffner is uncertain at this time whether Marshall will get another shot to play in the middle. Like new special teams coach John Bonamego, Duffner is settling into his new office, watching tapes of the current personnel and making evaluations of each player.

"There is a lot of personnel discussion at this time as far as who will perform where," Duffner said.

Duffner said the bottom line for the linebackers is speed, but also the ability to be in the right place at the right time.

"Our theory would be to put the fastest most productive players on the field that we can," he said. "Sometimes you can have a guy who has real good speed and quickness, but he has problems making plays. So finding a guy who employs instincts and can be a productive play-maker, that's certainly something we'll try to do."

Duffner, 49, was employed as defensive coordinator for the Bengals the past two years. A 28-year coaching veteran, he was Cincinnati's linebackers coach for four years (1997-2000) before being promoted to defensive coordinator in 2001.

Mike Sherman served as offensive line coach (1985-87) and offensive coordinator (1988) at Holy Cross during Duffner's five-year tenure as head coach there (1986-91). Duffner also was head coach for the University of Maryland from 1992-96 where he went 20-35 before moving on to Cincinnati.

"Upon the very beginning of our relationship I was most impressed with his work ethic, his attention to detail, his intelligence, his energy, his ability to recruit and work with people," Duffner said about Sherman. "All those things were pluses. It was a very good professional and personal relationship we had when we coached together."

The addition of Duffner gives the Packers' current staff eight coaches with experience as an NFL offensive or defensive coordinator (also Mike Sherman, Larry Beightol, Sylvester Croom, Ed Donatell, Tom Rossley, Ray Sherman and Bob Slowik).

Duffner began his coaching career at Ohio State in 1975-76 as a graduate assistant to the legendary Woody Hayes. In 1977, he was named defensive coordinator at the University of Cincinnati, becoming - at age 23 - the youngest defensive coordinator in the Division I ranks.

Duffner played college football at William & Mary, where he was a defensive lineman and was named to the Southern Conference All-Academic team as a senior. He later was inducted into the William & Mary Hall of Fame in 1990.

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