Packers’ new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine must have been happy with this year’s off-season. Going into his first year, the team brought in Mo Wilkerson and signed Tramon Williams and Davon House. Then in the draft, the team’s first three picks were defensive players including corners at the two top spots. But the addition of Oren Burks in the third round may be one of the more under-rated of the Packers’ choices this year. Burks is an ILB with a lot of defensive back and hybrid experience. And coming from Vandy, in Pettine’s simpler scheme…he could be part of a very confusing front that is also very new to teams in the NFC North.
“Likable and Learnable” is how Pettine’s defense has been described and it seems like a fit for a draft and develop team that has had to rely on rookies far too often in recent years. But the front of this year’s team has enough veteran experience to hit the turf running in Pettine’s scheme. Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark are both players that can disrupt even against double-teams and the addition of Wilkerson (who knows Pettine’s system) makes a three-headed monster that should be extremely versatile, especially since Wilkerson can operate as a stand up rusher and move around. Wikerson could be seen as the most intimidating prospect of the lot if he comes back to form, even though Daniels is a pro-bowler and Kenny Clark was playing dominant football at the end of last season. The front also has rotational players in Dean Lowry and Montravius Adams who should make the second year leap.
Pettine said when he was hired that the “cupboard is not empty” and now after the draft he should feel pretty good about the raw materials that he has at his disposal. Behind a formidable front are Clay Matthews and Nick Perry. Matthews is in a contract year and Pettine has said he would move him around. Perry is dominant at times when he is healthy and the Packers have yet to see what Vince Biegel and Reggie Gilbert can really do. Kendall Donnerson will likely be on the practice squad to develop so he won’t factor in this year but at 250 pounds, a 4.48 40 yard dash (yes, you read that right) and a 40 inch vert and almost 11 foot broad jump make Donnerson very intriguing for the future. In the meantime, Biegel and Gilbert need to show they belong in the rotation.
At inside linebacker, Blake Martinez had a stellar year and looks to build on that and develop into a leader of this defense. Martinez is on record saying how excited he is to have greater accountability on the defense under Pettine. He and Jake Ryan are the incumbents but Oren Burks is a smart, fast player that offers coverage potential as the dime LB. I expect to see him sooner rather than later but on third and long.
All in all, the options that this defense has are pretty substantial. If Reggie Gilbert or Vince Biegel show that they can be a serious pass rush threat…Clay Matthews could rotate inside next to Martinez. If Oren Burks comes on early, Perry and Matthews on the outside and Burks and Martinez on the inside offer coverage ability and Martinez has the experience now to rotate into pass-rush duties to confuse opposing quarterbacks. The front could be two down linemen with Mo Wilkerson standing up much like the “elephant” in Capers’ scheme and then things could get really interesting. With all those veterans, the Packers should be able to deploy their defense pretty much at will. On the backside there will be young players and rookies and Oren Burks inside may take longer to develop than I project but it is a promising front to say the least.
Versatility like that is not so easy to come by and in the past the Packers have been hurt by their draft and develop philosophy as young players made youthful mistakes and the system did not account well for that overall philosophy. I think the tide is turning however. Versatility and athleticism will quickly become a hallmark of Packers’ defenses and I do foresee a defense that should be good and could be great. When all is said and done, football is played by athletes…and the Packers now have some of the best athletes that the draft and free agency had to offer. Development is another important part of the equation but technique can be taught…speed cannot. I think the future is bright for Mike Pettine and this Packers defense. But what do you think? Certainly, we won’t know for certain until the lights go on and the Packers trot out onto the field to play the Bears. But projecting is part of the fun of being a Packers fan. I look forward to your thoughts.