Wednesday, September 02, 2009
Packers defense back on track
Adding 3-4 scheme, guru Capers pays off
By Jim Corbett
September 1, 2009
GREEN BAY, Wis. — The Green Bay Packers have long gone green.
With rare exception, they've preferred to grow teams organically through the draft from general manager Ron Wolf's 1992-2000 tenure to former coach/GM Mike Sherman to current GM Ted Thompson.
Wolf signed late Hall of Fame defensive end Reggie White in a 1993 free-agent coup that helped vault the Packers to a Super Bowl XXXI title.
Thompson took his big free-agent plunge with the 2006 signing of former Oakland Raider cornerback Charles Woodson to a seven-year, $52 million deal justified by Woodson's 19 interceptions since.
But after a 6-10 flop followed Green Bay's 13-3 run to the 2007 NFC Championship Game, Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy signed another potential impact defensive free agent — 3-4 defensive guru Dom Capers.
Though the 59-year-old coordinator doesn't cast White's intimidating shadow, the 24-year NFL coaching veteran brings a similar disruptive dynamic — harassing quarterbacks.
Green Bay is 3-0 this preseason thanks to quarterback Aaron Rodgers' 71.1% completion percentage, a revamped run game and a quick transition to Capers' attacking, 3-4 scheme. The first unit has 13 turnovers, 11 sacks and 10 points allowed.
"The Packers have been very impressive," said CBS analyst Bill Cowher, the former Pittsburgh Steelers coach who had Capers as his defensive coordinator (1992-94). "Two years ago they were one play from the Super Bowl. And they lost a lot of close games last season.
"With Dom there, they'll … be able to create more pressure on the quarterback."
McCarthy fired former coordinator Bob Sanders and staff after a franchise-record seven losses by four points or fewer.
"Dom's knowledge and experience was something we felt would be extremely valuable going forward," Thompson said. "We felt we had the versatility among our players to do this.
"It was Mike's call. As an offensive coordinator he understands some of the difficulties the different (3-4) looks can cause. The whole idea is to create more doubt on the part of the opposing quarterback."
"I've never met a defensive player who didn't like to be aggressive," says the former Carolina Panthers and Houston Texans head coach. "In this defense, the outside linebackers have to be productive. Aaron Kampman has been a real good pass rusher from the end position.
"I think he'll carry that over to the outside 'backer position. And we liked what we saw in Clay Matthews."
Thompson traded the 41st overall selection and two third-round picks in the April draft to the New England Patriots for the 26th overall selection exercised on Matthews. The son of 19-year NFL linebacker Clay Matthews Sr., the former Southern California standout will test his injured hamstring for the first time in Thursday's preseason finale.
Kampman has 37 sacks since 2006.
After seeming apprehensive in May about switching from a three-point stance to standing up, the two-time Pro Bowler returned a fumble forced by a blitzing Woodson for a 24-yard touchdown in Green Bay's 44-37 preseason win Friday against the Arizona Cardinals.
The Iowa native scored his first touchdown since high school the same night his late Aplington-Parkersburg High coach Ed Thomas was honored at his alma mater's season opener. A former player is accused of fatally shooting Thomas on June 24.
"Going back for his funeral was one of the more inspirational things I've been a part of," Kampman said.
"In my locker, I have a saying from a book of quotations he called, 'The Champion.'
"The essence is consistency is the mark of a champion. And whatever you do, work at it with all your heart and never give up."
Kampman has committed heart and soul to Capers' scheme to honor a late mentor's spirit.
"His influence is having ripple effects," Kampman says. "I'm a ripple."