Dom Capers is a quality defensive coordinator, but he’s not a magician. As of today - regardless of what coach Mike McCarthy said at last week's press conference - the Packers don’t have the pieces in place to run a 3-4. In fact, they’re not even close. “[GM] Ted Thompson has his work cut out for him,” said a former scout. “He needs to find a nose tackle, an outside linebacker and a defensive end between now and the start of camp. A 3-4 won’t be effective with players like Ryan Pickett, Johnny Jolly, Brandon Chillar and Brady Poppinga in key roles.”
Pickett has been one of the team’s better defensive players for the past three seasons, but he’s not the kind of consistent run-stuffer that this scheme requires. “He gets pushed around too much at the point of attack,” said the scout. “The Packers need someone like Haloti Ngata (Baltimore), Casey Hampton (Pittsburgh) or Jamal Williams (San Diego) in the middle. Those players force double-teams on a consistent basis and make it extremely difficult for opponents to run the ball. And once the ground game is under control, guys like Capers can lick their chops and really get after the quarterback.”
Along with having a dominant nose tackle, a 3-4 defense also needs a pair of dangerous outside linebackers. The Packers have one in Aaron Kampman. “There’s no doubt in my mind that Kampman can make the transition,” opined the scout. “While he may not be the prototypical 3-4 outside linebacker, Capers will figure out a way to make him effective. But who’ll be his partner? That’s the problem. I don’t see any veteran on the current roster who’s talented enough to line up at that vitally important position. Maybe a youngster like Jason Hunter or Jeremy Thompson will surprise during the spring and summer, but that’s certainly not something the coaches can count on.”
While adding a nose tackle and an outside linebacker are the top two priorites, finding a solid defensive end to play opposite Cullen Jenkins is a close third. “Filling this spot should be easier that the first two tasks,” said the scout. “In fact, I thought Justin Harrell was born to play this particular position when I watched him at the University of Tennessee. Unfortunately, he doesn’t look like the same guy these days. Maybe the back will finally heal and he’ll be the answer, but right now he’s a gigantic question mark. I guess you could probably get by with Jolly for a season, but I’d want to do better.”
So here’s Thompson’s shopping list for the offseason: one run-stuffing nose tackle, one pass rushing outside linebacker and one solid defensive end. “It won’t be easy to accomplish all that in the next six months, but it’s doable,” said the scout. “There will be a handful of capable ends available in free agency and the draft is pretty deep at nose tackle and outside linebacker. If Thompson can add those pieces to a front seven that already boasts some very talented players, then Capers should be able to turn things around pretty quickly.” If not, then the only time people will be mentioning Green Bay's defense in the same breath as Pittsburgh's defense is when the two team face off against each other at Heinz Field next season.
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