Considering the Green Bay Packers run a 3-4 defense under defensive coordinator Dom Capers, it was perhaps surprising that they selected four players in the NFL draft who played primarily in a 4-3 system in college.
To be sure, far more college teams run 4-3 defenses compared to the 3-4, but the extent to which the Packers went for players known for their exploits in a 4-3 was a revelation.
Maybe the coaches, scouts and front office agreed to take the best available athletes regardless of background.
Or maybe they realized the Packers spend so much time in their nickel 2-4-5 subpackage that it practically resembles a four-man defensive front anyway.
Whatever the reason, all the new players the Packers have acquired have skills that should allow them to be successful in any defensive scheme.
Prior to the NFL draft, Nick Perry stated his position preference was as a defensive end where he became comfortable in his time at USC almost always lining up in a three-point stance.
“It’s just that edge,” said Perry at the Combine. “Some people have a better edge getting off the ball with their hand in the dirt. I’ve been playing it a long time now, and I have experience in that. Being put further away from what you’re used to doing makes you a little uneasy.”
That was before being drafted by the Packers and changing his tune to that of the “good soldier.” And to his credit, Perry has handled the change of position without complaint.
Perry has no choice but to accept his new job title of outside linebacker, but he also has plenty of good coaches and role models to help him along the way. His position coach with the Packers is the fiery Kevin Greene, who’s gaining a reputation of taking guys under his wing.
If Perry needs advice from a player, all he has to do is look to Clay Matthews. The two were teammates for one year at USC back in 2008.
When he weighed in at the combine, Perry checked in at 270 pounds, and the question is whether he can carry the same weight as an outside linebacker that plays in space.
Perry also has to get used to playing on the left side of the defense after playing primarily on the right side during his college days.
The Packers wasted no time installing Perry at left outside linebacker knowing that his size can be useful as opposing offenses tend to run to their right more often than their left.
USC rarely lined Perry up on the left except in rare instances like the Cal game when they faced a left-handed quarterback, and Perry could harass from the blind side.
One thing Perry has to do is get used to that inside-shoulder drop (his right shoulder), which is the opposite shoulder he would dip when on the right side.
When the 51st overall choice came up in this past April’s draft, the Packers decided they could no longer wait to address their defensive line.
They traded up into the second round to grab Jerel Worthy in hopes that he can improve a woeful Packers’ pass rush that had no answer when Cullen Jenkins left in free agency last season.
Worthy played primarily as a 4-3 defensive tackle at Michigan State, and he’ll continue to play as an interior pass rusher when the Packers are in their subpackage defenses.
In fact, the Packers inserted Worthy with the starters in their nickel defense pretty much since Day 1 of the offseason.
As much as Worthy has a reputation for being a disruptive pass rusher and as much as the Packers need his help in that department, he played the run surprisingly well in college, too.
Whether it’s against the run or the pass, Worthy has a quick first step and an innate ability to shoot gaps that allows him to get into the opposing backfield.
Wisconsin sports fans might remember Worthy stuffing Badgers running back Montee Ball during the Big Ten Championship game when Worthy diagnosed that the right guard was pulling and immediately got upfield far ahead of his teammates.
Drafting Worthy in the second round didn’t stop the Packers from continuing to add talent along the defensive line.
By grabbing Mike Daniels out of Iowa in the fourth round, it was clear the Packers were serious about improving their pass rush. Daniels was a particularly curious selection, however, if no other reason than his size.
At 6’0” and 291 pounds, Daniels doesn’t exactly fit the mold of prototype 3-4 defensive end, especially from a weight standpoint. Most NFL 3-4 defensive linemen, especially the two-gap types, are over 300 and have the ability to anchor against opposing offensive linemen.
Because of his size, don’t expect the Packers to use Daniels in the base defense much, if at all. Instead, they’ll utilize his quickness as an interior pass rusher in their nickel and dime packages.
Like Perry, Worthy and Daniels, Terrell Manning also played in a 4-3 in college. But unlike those drafted ahead of him, Manning didn’t play in the trenches.
Manning played as a 4-3 outside linebacker for an underrated defense last season at North Carolina State but is being asked to switch to inside linebacker for the Packers.
The Packers traded up for Manning as an underclassman in the fifth round of the draft, which showed how highly they must think of his talents.
What Manning showed at N.C. State was an ability to make plays with his legs from sideline to sideline.
And considering the struggles Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk have had in pass coverage, it made sense for the Packers to add somebody with athleticism that might have an advantage in sticking with receivers downfield.
The defensive rookies the Packers drafted aren’t going to seamlessly fit into their defense. There’s going to be some growing pains along the way.
But as long as they’re committed to coaching and developing them, and adapting the system to their strengths, there’s hope that the NFL’s 32nd-ranked defense from a season ago will improve.
Brian Carriveau is a Green Bay Packers featured columnist at Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations were gathered first-hand.
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