Optimism is the catchphrase for the 2009 Green Bay Packers secondary unit on defense.
Friday’s game against the Cardinals highlighted the secondary’s potential to pressure opponents with outstanding performances. Charles Woodson, Nick Collins, Al Harris and dime cornerback Jarrett Bush all played outstanding in the new 3-4 defensive system by forcing five turnovers.
The players are excited for the major changes in coverage responsibility, especially the options provided with the zone coverage scheme. In a recent interview, Woodson said the defense last year was too predictable in the 4-3 system, which won’t happen now.
The new scheme allows for multiple big-play opportunities for Harris and Woodson who both excel against the run, playing off receivers, and reading quarterbacks. When this dynamic duo begins to accumulate interceptions, solo tackles, and sacks in the regular season, expect fans and the media to recognize them with Pro Bowl invitations.
While 2008 was disappointing for the defensive unit as a whole, the secondary was ranked No. 9 in pass defense and emerging force Nick Collins secured his first Pro Bowl nomination. Overall, the secondary is an elite group because three out of the four starters have represented the Packers in Hawaii.
The biggest question mark, however, remains starting safety Atari Bigbi’s recovery from various injuries and offseason ankle surgery. Will his absences from most of the offseason practices cause additional development delays for the potential starter?
Packer’s General Manager Ted Thompson doesn’t think so.
Thompson didn’t address the safety position during the draft and seemed halfhearted about signing free agent Anthony Smith from the Pittsburgh Steelers in the offseason. Bibgy “was injured the entire season last year, so we kind of throw that out” Thompson said during a press conference at training camp.
Atari acknowledged during the Packers Fan Fest appearance last March that expectations are set high for him this year. When I asked him whether he was feeling any “heat” from being the only non-Pro Bowler player in the Packers secondary, he laughingly answered that he was determined to correct the problem this year.
Overall the Packers secondary has the most to prove this year. With solid contributions from backups Tramon Williams, Bush, Smith, Will Blackmon and Aaron Rouse, this unit has enough quality depth to allow Capers to rotate coverage and blitz packages aggressively in almost any situation.
If the play of the secondary remains at this level, all indications point to at least a Pro Bowl nomination for Woodson. My gut instinct tells me that Bibgy will also make his first Pro Bowl appearance and offer proof that he is not only fully recovered but also one of the premier safeties in the league.
If the results of the first three preseason games are any indication, Packer fans have four more reasons to be optimistic for the 2009 season.