Mike McCarthy signaled how he was determined to try to turn the Packers' listless defense upside down when he fired the majority of his defensive assistants, including coordinator Bob Sanders, after the season.
The intended 180-degree transformation took further shape this week. The identity of Green Bay's defense with 4-3 base principles for nearly the last two decades was flipped to the NFL's in-vogue 3-4 scheme with the hiring of Dom Capers as coordinator Monday.
"Our starting point will be the 3-4. I'm a big believer in (it)," McCarthy asserted. "It's an opportunity. It's an excellent run defense, creates pass rush on the quarterback. I know from an offensive standpoint, when you look at it, when you play the 3-4, it creates targeting problems just from your initial game-plan meeting, and it really cuts the menu of the offense probably in half of what you would normally do on a four-man front.
"From a personnel standpoint, I'm in favor of the 3-4 because it's the body type that I think will enhance the type of football we want to play here in Green Bay, particularly in November and December."
|LB Kevin Greene (Getty)|
Although Capers reportedly wasn't McCarthy's first choice to lead the defense - Mike Nolan, Gregg Williams and Jim Haslett interviewed and all may have been offered the job before Capers met with McCarthy late last week -- the head coach called his new hire "an excellent fit" for the radical shift in defensive philosophy that is afoot.
Capers is a 3-4 guru and was at the controls of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense in the early 1990s when it gained the nickname "Blitzburgh."
"I think that over the years all defensive players like to play aggressively," Capers said. "I think if you can play aggressively and stop the run, that's the best of both worlds."
The Packers had far too little of both last season as they slumped to a record of 6-10 a year after going 13-3 and reaching the NFC Championship Game. They sacked opposing quarterbacks only 27 times and ranked 26th in the league against the run, allowing an average of 131.6 yards per game.
Neither McCarthy nor Capers is expecting the conversion to the 3-4 to occur in short order. Capers is spending his first few weeks on the job studying film of the players he inherited and will be looking to make the right fits with changes that will occur throughout the entire defense.
"It's an impressive system that utilizes the talents of its players," McCarthy said. "It's about utilizing your players, and this is a system that we will institute."
Capers, who was head coach for the expansion teams of the Carolina Panthers from 1995-98 and the Houston Texans from 2001-05, had a similar undertaking when he was defensive coordinator for Jacksonville in 1999 and 2000 and moved the Jaguars from a 4-3 to a 3-4.
Then-Jaguars defensive end-turned-linebacker Tony Brackens is the successful model that Capers will be looking to replicate in moving Packers defensive end Aaron Kampman to the hybrid spot.
Kampman, Green Bay's best pass-rushing lineman, is viewed as undersized at 6-feet-4, 265 pounds to remain exclusively at end in the 3-4. So, how he makes the anticipated adjustment to outside linebacker will be widely scrutinized in the offseason workouts, when the implementation of the new system takes place.
Depending on what the Packers accomplish in free agency and the draft, the projected starting down linemen would be Cullen Jenkins and Johnny Jolly flanking Ryan Pickett, who McCarthy says is "a pure nose tackle."
McCarthy said aspects of the 4-3 would be integrated into the new defensive game plan.
"How gradual you evolve into the 3-4 always depends on your personnel," said Capers, who also was defensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins in 2007 and was a special assistant for the New England Patriots last season.
"I think you make a tremendous mistake if you come in and say you have a cookie-cutter 3-4 defense and this is what we're going to be and try to fit your personnel to that," he added. "I think you fit your defense and have enough flexibility in your defense to fit it to the personnel you have, and you evolve from there."
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