The Green Bay Packers enter this season coming off a disappointing 6-10 campaign in 2008, the motto for this year could be out with the old in with the new. The new defense is a 3-4, and there are several position battles on the defense alone that could shape the teams entire make-up for the 2009 season. The first battle is at Strong Safety: Atari Bigby and Anthony Smith, vie for this job, Bigby has the talent, but Smith has the experience in the system. Bigby had a tough 2008 campaign missing most of the year due to injury, but comes back vowing to be the same safety he was for the Pack at the end of 2007 on into the playoffs. Smith comes over from the world champion Pittsburgh Steelers and brings a familiarity to the 3-4 scheme, He like Bigby is a hard hitter and an enforcer. His downside can be his mouth as he occasionally gives teams bulletin board material, but this battle should be intriguing all the way through training camp.
The next battle is at outside linebacker where Jeremy Thompson, Brady Poppinga, and new rookie Clay Matthews
Thompson performed admirably last year in the playing time that he got with injuries to Cullen Jenkins, and several scouts have pointed out that Thompson might just fit better as a 3-4 OLB. His size is comparable to that of James Harrison.
Poppinga may just be the odd man out of this group as he is not highly touted nor a 1st round draft pick but Poppinga does have heart and he knows how to get after the Quarterback. He may very well be cut at the end of training camp, or he could be to the team what Tracy White was in 2007 on special teams, he however in my eyes is the least likely to win a starting spot.
Clay Matthews represents the first trade up into the first round selection that Ted Thompson has made in his tenure as the Packers GM, he had a great career at USC, and has already opened some eyes at OTA's and he is the wild card of the group. Many fans are pulling for Matthews, my prediction is that Thompson will win the job in training camp but eventually Matthews will un-seat him as starter.
There are many battles on the front 3, but the projected starters are B.J Raji, Ryan Pickett, and Cullen Jenkins.. Raji was the Packers top pick in the 2009 draft and has shown promise and flashes of dominance in OTA's he could play some DE and some NT during the season but for now he is listed as the starter at Left Defensive End and I expect him to stay there for the most of the time he's on the field. Pickett had a good yera last year and he was one of the only consistent players on the Packers D-Line (Kampman and Jolly most of the time were the others) He sitll has the ability to control the gaps which is exactly what new Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers will ask him to do. Pickett should enjoy another successful season. Jenkins is an unknown coming into this year because he's coming off a torn pectoral muscle in his left arm, but the Packers staff is excited about his return as are many fans. Jenkins was having the best season of his career before getting hurt and I expect him to be the best of the bunch on the D-Line when the season starts. The Packers season hinges on the success of the new 3-4 defense, I like many others am excited to see what happens this year.