Green Bay Packers: Defensive Position Changes For 2010

Jersey Al BraccoSenior Analyst IMay 21, 2010

PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 20: Heath Miller #83 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs with the ball from BJ Raji #90 of the Green Bay Packers during the game on December 20, 2009 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

As the Green Bay Packers’ 2010 voluntary OTAs get underway, it’s apparent the Packers coaching staff have some different positional ideas for this year’s defense.

Will Blackmon is moving to safety, Ryan Pickett is moving to left DE, BJ Raji is back at nose tackle, Brady Poppinga was the first team LOLB and Jarret Bush is now strictly a corner (insert joke here…).

The defensive line change was the first one revealed, where the Packers have decided to have BJ Raji and Ryan Pickett switch positions. For the foreseeable future, BJ Raji will be at the position he was drafted to play, nose tackle, and Jenkins will move out to left defensive end.

For his part, Pickett said all the right things, “Personally I think because B.J. is more of a nose and his body type, I’m a little taller, a little different style than him,” Pickett said. “They thought that would be the best move to help the team. and I was like, ‘All right, that’s fine,’ even though that wasn’t my first desire to play end.”

Raji, on the other hand, could barely hide his glee. When asked about the reasons, Raji said, “I don’t know why, I didn’t even ask. It was kind of exciting when they told me. I just went from there. “I could easily maximize my potential there…I just feel like I have more of a range to get to the ball.”

Defensive line coach Mike Trgovac downplayed the move and stopped short of calling the switch permanent, saying the ultimate decision will be made by Head Coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers. It could be (permanent),” Trgovac said. “This is the time of year you want to do things like that. I think B.J. and ‘Pick’ are, for their size, very versatile guys. We want to make sure that they both have work at nose and end.

My perspective on the move is this: I think it’s mostly about the Packers’ most popular F word, flexibility, and partially about creating more of an inside pass rush. We all know how the Packers love to have interchangeable parts, especially on the line on both sides of the ball.

Beyond that, I think this move is all about Raji. Wherever Pickett plays, he brings the same resume, run-stopper. Raji, on the other hand, represents the best chance for creating an inside push and not letting opposing quarterbacks have a nice comfortable pocket to step up into (see Brett Favre and Kurt Warner). He has shown the ability to do so at the college level, where even double teams were often not enough to stop Raji from penetrating and getting in the quarterback’s face.

Hampered by the ankle injury last year, Raji was never able to get that strong push he needed to put offensive linemen into a backpedal, instead, getting stood up and entangled in way too many stand-offs. The Packers certainly are hoping they get to see the BJ Raji they deemed worthy of the ninth pick of the draft. And they plan to give him EVERY chance to do so.

As for Brady Poppinga lining up with the first team defense, I think this is simply the Packers sending Brad Jones a message: You will not be handed the starting LOLB job, you will have to work hard, be hungry and win the job. I don’t think there’s any more to this move than that.

The third change came as more of a surprise, with the Packers moving Will Blackmon to safety. I call it a surprise because Blackmon has never played safety in the pros or college (he actually played wide receiver as a college senior, but never safety).

I’ve never been a big fan of Blackmon as a cornerback, so I’m curious to see how this works out. He has always carried more weight than the typical cornerback, so his body type fits better at safety. Blackmon expressed via twitter that he doesn’t care where he plays, as long as he’s on the field.

I think the Packers definitely consider Blackmon their most skilled returner (especially on punts), so they want to find the defensive position where he can help the team most. While Blackmon is still rehabbing his knee, he has been spending classroom time with safeties coach Darren Perry and is enthusiastic about the move.

I believe moving Blackmon to safety is all about not getting themselves in a position like last year, where because of injuries, they had to put players out on the field they weren’t totally comfortable with. I see Blackmon as a free safety backup to Nick Collins, with Bigby and Burnett manning the strong safety spot.

As mentioned previously, Jarret Bush will no longer be thrown to the wolves as a safety, and with Harris, Williams, and Lee back on the field, perhaps this is finally the year Packers fans get their wish, Bush is sent packing.

Strictly speculating , there could be another change in the Packers defensive backfield that follows Blackmon’s move. I believe you could see Derrick Martin used at cornerback, where he started his career. According to Martin’s agent, he believes Martin’s best position is at nickle or dime corner, and it’s safe to say he would be an improvement over what the Packers were forced to throw out there late last season.

As a special teams demon, I could also envision Martin as an effective blitzer out of the defensive backfield, freeing up Charles Woodson to cover the No. 1 receivers when needed. And he would still give the Packers some additional insurance at safety. And just as importantly, this move could be the final nail in Jarret Bush’s coffin.


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Jersey Al Bracco is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for