Green Bay Packers Transform D-Line from Weakness to Strength
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The 2011 season was one to forget for the Green Bay Packers defense.
The once-proud unit went from one of the best in the league in 2010 to setting records for defensive futility, surrendering more yards last season than any team in NFL history.
There is plenty of blame to go around for the epic failure of the once-stout defense. Still, no matter what level of football it is, good defense always starts up front with a stout defensive line, something the Packers certainly lacked last season.
The loss of pass-rushing defensive end Cullen Jenkins to the Philadelphia Eagles last offseason didn't help matters. Neither did the surprising dip in production from B.J. Raji, who posted 6.5 sacks in 2010, compared to just three in 2011.
Raji, who was an absolute beast during the Packers' Super Bowl run, was not the same player following Jenkins' departure. Not only did his sack total decrease, his tackles did too, notching just 22 last season, compared to 2010, when he had 39 total, four for loss.
Ryan Pickett, the nose tackle, was the most consistent member of the defensive line, leading the group in tackles with 33, six of which went for loss. However, at this point in his career, Pickett offers little pass-rush, and Mike Neal (Jenkins' supposed replacement) has so far been nothing but injury-prone.
As a whole, the defensive line combined for just six sacks last season, compared to 19 in 2010. Overall, the unit made very few plays in the backfield and helped in allowing 4.7 yards per carry to opposing runners.
Simply put, as a whole, the defensive line lacked impact players, and it showed.
Dom Capers' 3-4 defense needs to be good at two things to succeed. One is stopping the run, two is pressuring the quarterback. Last season, the defensive line could do neither, meaning it was time for an upgrade.
Fortunately, general manager Ted Thompson was more than happy to oblige.
Thompson, who normally drafts for value, was aggressive in adding reinforcements up front. He started by selecting defensive tackle Jerel Worthy of Michigan State in Round 2 of the 2012 NFL draft, then followed it up with Mike Daniels of Iowa in the fourth.
Worthy, who graded out as a first-rounder, fell into the middle of the second round, when Thompson couldn't resist trading up with the Eagles to acquire his services.
What makes Worthy so valuable to Green Bay is his ability to play anywhere along the line. He is more than capable of contributing as a 3-4 defensive end, a defensive tackle in sub packages, where he can rush the passer and even at nose tackle if need be.
Although there are some concerns about Worthy's effort, he's big enough at 6'3", 310 pounds, to stuff the run and athletic enough to provide the interior pass rush the Packers lacked last season. That makes him well worth the risk where he was taken.
In three seasons at Michigan State, Worthy posted 12 sacks to go along with 27.5 tackles for loss, proving he can be productive pressuring the quarterback and stuffing the run.
Daniels, who Green Bay picked with the first of four compensatory selections, also possesses solid pass-rushing skills, notching 16 career sacks, including nine last season, third-best in the Big Ten conference.
The Iowa product was viewed by scouts as a third-round selection, yet he fell to the fourth due to his lack of size at 6'0", 290 pounds. However, he should fit in well as a 3-4 end in Green Bay, where the Packers like their linemen to penetrate and pressure the quarterback, something Daniels is rather adept at.
The combination of Worthy, Daniels and Hargrove gives Green Bay a total of three new players who can collapse the pocket inside. Their presence should also shift focus away from Raji inside and Clay Matthews on the edge, in turn helping both to be more productive.
Thompson knows the foundation of any good defense starts up front, so he addressed the position by adding three players with pass-rush ability to ensure the defensive line has the depth and talent necessary to be a strength in 2012, instead of a weakness.
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