Green Bay Packers Defense: Training Camp Improvements to Wish For

Jersey Al Bracco@JerseyAlGBPSenior Analyst IAugust 17, 2009

GREEN BAY, WI - NOVEMBER 30:  (L-R) Johnny Jolly #97, Charles Woodson #21 and Al Harris #31 of the Green Bay Packers huddle up with their defensive teammates against the Carolina Panthers at Lambeau Field on November 30, 2008 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Panthers won 35-31.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

As the Packers’ 2009 training camp continues, here are the developments I want to see on the defensive side of the ball by the time the Packers break camp. 

Developments I want to see on Defense:

Lets hope the  “new look” defense is ready for game one

I started writing this article a few days before the first preseason game. When I wrote “game one, I was referring to the first game of the regular season. Little did I know, the defense would be ready by the first preseason game—a shutout!

But seriously, I’m not reading anything into this first game against the awful Browns, other than our reserve DBs and LBs played well.

Getting back to my point, if the Packers are to have a winning season, it’s imperative the new defense is humming and ready to go to start the season. The way the Packers’ schedule shakes out, the early games are where the wins will be there for the taking.

The Packers’ first six games are against Chicago, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Minnesota, Detroit and Cleveland. Even if we give the Packers a loss to one of their division rivals, that’s still 5 games they should put in the win column. But only if the defense is ready.

I’ve seen this scenario before, firsthand. In 2006, the Packers had fired Mike Sherman and brought in a new coaching staff headed by Mike McCarthy.

The opening game of the season was against Chicago, and it happened to be my first ever visit to Lambeau Field. Unfortunately, my day was ruined as the Packers were a disorganized mess.

Nobody was on the same page, there were missed assignments galore and it seemed like on every play there was a Bear receiver open by ten yards. I’ll swear on anything you like,; that day, they made Rex Grossman look like Joe Montana. The final score was 26-0, but it could have easily been much worse.

In any case, my point is that the Packers’ coaches simply had done a poor job getting the team ready for the start of the season. In fact, it took the better part of the season that year before the Packers started to look like a football team.

With a new defensive staff and scheme in 2009, the Packers can’t afford to repeat that mistake. The good news is that Dom Capers is not Bob Sanders. Capers’ track record of successful defensive turnarounds has me feeling confident he will get the job done in time for the season opener against  Chicago.

The Packers find more defensive line depth

HELP!  Even before training camp started, I considered this to be an area of concern for the Packers. The potential DL backups are Johnny Jolly, Justin Harrell, Mike Montgomery, Alfred Malone, Dean Muhtadi, Anthony Toribio and sixth-round draft pick Jarius Wynn. There isn’t one name on that list that makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

Now that we are two weeks into training camp, it’s a BIG concern. Projected starter BJ Raji is just getting into camp, Justin Harrell is again trapped in his injury hell and Johnny Jolly (who takes too many plays off for my liking, anyway) is a bit banged up.

The only bright spot on the line is Cullen Jenkins looking like his old self while coming back from his injury. Ryan Pickett is a solid player and is now surely the starter at nose tackle.

Having watched a lot of the New York Giants defense for the last few years, what makes them so good is the depth they have on the defensive line. They can run reserves out onto the field that are fresh and almost as talented as their starters.

Opposing offensive linemen have to deal with a seemingly never-ending string of big, nasty defensive linemen coming at them. It wears the offensive linemen out and saps them of some of their strength as the game progresses.

This is a major reason why the  Giants’ defense is able to shut down opposing offenses late in games.

In my opinion, the Packers could really use another veteran on the DL to provide some depth. Ebenezer Ekuban, Kevin Carter, Vonnie Holliday and others are still out there and unsigned. Shouldn’t we have brought one of those players in instead of  signing Stryker Sulak? Sure, it would have cost some money, but isn’t there a bigger need at DL than there is at outside linebacker?

Al Harris moves to nickel back

Let me make this perfectly clear, I have nothing against Al Harris. This is really more about Tramon Williams than it is about Al Harris. While Al Harris may have lost a step and isn’t the greatest tackler,  he is still in the top 20 percent of cornerbacks around the league.

If the Packers break camp with Harris at the nickel, that means Williams had a GREAT camp and the coaches feel he is ready for NFL stardom. I’m looking for Tramon to take that next big step and show us that the flashes of good play we’ve seen were just a preview of greater things to come.

Admittedly, this is a long shot. Deposing Al Harris would be no small feat, and the Packers coaches would surely be reluctant to make the move. Another factor is that Williams is probably better suited to the nickel position than Harris is. But who’s to say that in nickel situations, the Packers don’t bring Harris in to play corner and move Williams to nickel?   Is that the type of move an NFL head coach would make? I personally don’t know the answer to that question, but if any readers do, please leave a comment and enlighten us.  Regardless, my simple wish is to get Tramon Williams on the field for every defensive down.

Aaron Kampman

By the end of training camp, I would just like to see Aaron Kampman be one thing:  Comfortable.  If Kampman is able to grasp the responsibilities of his new position well enough to be able to play without having to over-think, then he will be just fine. Will he become a great cover linebacker? Probably not. Can he become a great rushing linebacker and an above-average all-around linebacker? Probably yes.

I trust Dom Capers to use Kampman in the best way and maximize his effectiveness. He will surely attempt to limit the game situations when Kampman will be called upon to cover one-on-one. Kampman will be protected by schemes in which he will get help from corners or safeties. And you can expect Kampman to be turned loose in passing situations, often in sub packages, where he will play as an end in a three-point stance.

I also trust that Capers and Kevin Greene have gotten Kampman to “buy-in” to the change and have worked tirelessly to make him feel good about it. To Kampman’s credit, he has been a model student. Kampman has spent a great deal of time in Green Bay since Capers and his crew were hired. He has studied the playbook extensively and worked one-on-one with Greene for much of the off-season.

Now that training camp is underway, I mainly want to see Kampman become comfortable with the schemes and know what his responsibilities are in each situation. If he has that part mastered, I’m confidant his ability will take care of the rest.


Check back for the next installment when I will cover some remaining miscellaneous topics. You can also read the previous installments on the kicking game and the offense.

You can find more of Jersey Al Bracco’s articles on several sports websites: Jersey Al’s Blog, Packer Chatters , Packers Lounge, NFL Touchdown and of course,  Bleacher Report.

You can also follow Jersey Al on twitter (when it's not being hacked).


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