What could 2009 bring to the Packers?
Well, the obvious changes include bringing in a new defensive coordinator, not to mention multiple assistant coaches, after the cleaning of house done recently by the packers.
By all rights, Bob Sanders has no reason to stay. He had the a young talented defense that he not only failed to coach to full potential, but he may have sent in motion changes that could bring significant growing pains. Mainly, I’m referring to the potential defensive scheme change that has been rumored.
Currently, the Pack run a traditional 4-3 defense, as of next year that defense could become a 3-4. Now, the question is: Do the Packers have the correct personal?
According to early rumors floating around the wire, Mike Nolan (former head coach of San Francisco) is a top runner to replace Bob Sanders. While Nolan is capable of running a 4-3 scheme defensively, the past has shown that he favors the 3-4, and that he is very capable of running such defense, evidenced by his stint with the Baltimore Ravens from 2002-2004.
But, you say, the Ravens had the personnel. The question is, do we?
Well...We have about half of the required positions.
One of the biggest things (literally) that a 3-4 defense needs is a massive two-gap nose tackle. We don’t have that. The best fit for this role would fall to Ryan Pickett (6’2” 330), who is by all rights a good player against the run, but better suited as a DT in a 4-3.
While Pickett is a strong and tough player that most coaches would envy to have, he doesn’t have the pure bulk and strength that is required. In order for a scheme transition to work, Green Bay must find a two-gap player who will constantly face doubles teams and yet still find a way to impact the game.
While the NT takes credit for most run-stopping effects, the defensive ends have just as big of responsibility. Not so much are they expected to create a pass rush as they are to keep linemen off of linebackers and play the run effectively.
While some people say that Aaron Kampman (6’4” 265) is not the normal fit for such a scheme, I disagree. Most DE in this system are required to be bigger and better suited to stop the run, but with Kampman's never-say-die attitude, I think he can provide a unique twist to the system.
He has always played well against the run and has proven that he is a tough son of a gun. On the other side of the line, we have a perfect fit in Cullen Jenkins (6’2” 305). Truly a perfect fit; he once played DT and is a good run defender.
Linebackers are truly the play makers of a 3-4 scheme. They are expected to be the athletic, free roaming, in-your-face players that they should be anyways. Well, the Packers have something along the lines of this.
On the outside we have a converted DE from his college days in Brady Poppinga (6’3”, 247). First off, he has pass rushing skills, just not great skills, he has improving coverage skills, but yet not great skills, and he has yet to show true explosiveness that is asked for by out side linebackers. Sorry Brady, but your not a good fit.
A.J. Hawk on the other hand has such untapped raw potential that its not even funny (because he has yet to show it). Hawk has both the size and speed to play in the 3-4 defenses. Standing at 6’1”, 248lbs, he has shown play making ability and average pass rush ability that can be worked with. Hawk is a good fit.
Moving to the inside, this is going to be a tough call. Nick Barnett does not quite have the size that is hoped for (6’2” 236) yet he is similar to Kampman, in the sense of size and skill.
Both guys are undersized for their respective positions yet they are fierce competitors who have high play maker ability. Barnett is an aggressive, explosive linebacker who is stronger then most give credit for (he benched more then Patrick Willis did in his testing).
My personal belief after watching him play for these past years is that he could be a unique player that adds dimensions to the defense, as he has for the past few years now.
Unfortunately we do not have a second middle linebacker; hopefully one will spring to mind. While the front seven undergo significant change, the defensive backs remain much the same.
By all rights the Packers can make this change, it will require hard work and dedication. Support will also be needed, Green Bay can pull off the switch, a few details must be attended to but it could be done.
It will take time and more then likely next season we will see a gradual change but the process will be slow, next year is likely to see both 4-3 and 3-4 defenses.