New Scheme Sealed Kampman's Departure

The Florida Times-Union reported today that Packers free agent Aaron Kampman has agreed to terms with the Jaguars. The departure comes on the heels of a transitional season for Kampman in Green Bay which never quite seemed right. Our Matt Tevsh provides the commentary.

It was perhaps the most uncomfortable and telling moment of Aaron Kampman’s eight-year career with the Packers.

It was June 2009. The Packers had just held an OTA practice, and for the first time since head coach Mike McCarthy announced that his team was transitioning to a 3-4 defensive scheme, Kampman was about to speak with the media.

What followed over the next seven minutes seemed out of the Bizzaro World. Kampman responded to questions with mostly forced smiles and terse remarks, and there were awkward pauses.

This was far from the Kampman that everyone knew. He seemed to be holding back while trying to remain professional. The normally engaging Iowan could give no more than one or two sentence answers, and although he failed to come out and directly say it, it was clear that he was unhappy with the new direction of the Packers’ defense – namely, being asked to switch from defensive end to outside linebacker.

From that day forward, then, it was almost as if Kampman’s fate in Green Bay had been sealed. Despite what the Packers’ coaches were saying, he was never going to be a good fit for the 3-4.

So inevitably it should come as no surprise that Kampman is no longer with the Packers. Just three days into free agency, he signed with the Jaguars. In Jacksonville, Kampman will return to his natural defensive end position in a 4-3, where he grew into a Pro Bowl player.

Losing Kampman is a blow to the Packers in many ways. He was a pro’s pro, a true team leader, and a damn good, hard-working football player. Those qualities were the main reasons the Packers signed Kampman five years ago when he was not yet a premier pass rusher, but rather a simple restricted free agent. After the Vikings offered a contract to Kampman on April 20, 2005, the Packers matched just a day later. It was a worthwhile investment.

Over the next four years, Kampman tallied 43.5 of his 54 career sacks (putting him fourth on the Packers all-time list). He earned Pro Bowl spots in 2006 and 2007 and developed into one of the best all-around defensive ends in the league.

But everything went wrong for Kampman last season, starting with the Packers’ decision to go to a 3-4 in January after hiring Dom Capers. Despite what the coaches preached and what Kampman swallowed, this was going to be an experiment.

Though Kampman put in the work, trimmed down his weight, and played the position correctly, his technical style played poorly at outside linebacker where traditionally, a relentless, physical type of player thrives in a 3-4.

Kampman was too undersized (260 pounds) to return to his defensive end spot. The Packers tried to compensate by letting Kampman play some out of a three-point stance by mid-season, but that only brought the defense out of its core principles. The stronger message sent was that the team was trying to get more out of Kampman.

The minor change in technique for Kampman had little effect, but the success the Packers’ defense was having covered up any issues with Kampman – until Nov. 22.

On that day, in a game against the 49ers, Kampman tore his ACL. Shortly after, he had season-ending knee surgery. He finished with just 3.5 sacks, on pace for his lowest total in five years.

In Kampman’s place, rookie Brad Jones played well. More telling perhaps was that the Packers’ defense seemed to play faster and more flexible with a truer linebacker in the mix. By the end of the season, Kampman’s future in Green Bay seemed more and more like a long shot.

By all accounts, Kampman has recovered well. Despite the severity of the injury, he was reportedly receiving interest from several teams before getting a deal done with the Jaguars. There have been no reports that the Packers offered him a contract, like they said they would.

T hus, a great Packers’ career has ended. Had the Packers not switched to a 3-4, Kampman might still be in Green Bay. But like that OTA interview session with the media in June, the outside linebacker spot in the 3-4 never seemed quite right for Kampman.

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