The Packers defense will have a number of new faces heading into the 2019 training camp. With some fan favorites and familiar faces gone this year, we could be seeing quite the shakeup in the Packers defense. This offseason has probably been one of the biggest for the Packers defense in years, with key additions such as Za’Darius Smith and Adrian Amos. These players seem to instantly make their position group better. The Packers defense faired well in first-year defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s defense. With scheme being the biggest learning curve last year, I feel like this year it will be finding key guys to fit the mold of this defense.
The players Mike Pettine is looking for in his defense seem vastly different from that of former defensive coordinator Dom Capers. In Capers defense, he stressed bringing pressure from every position. He needed strong, physical defensive backs who could stunt up the A gap and speedy outside linebackers who could drop into coverage. Under Pettine, however, he is looking for strong outside linebackers to force the play inside and really stress run defense fundamentals. He doesn’t rely as heavily on defensive back pressure, rather, his philosophy is playing one gap defense up front and trusting his guys to lock things down in the secondary. Pettine doesn’t need to create chaos from every angle. What he’s looking for it seems is trusting his front 5 guys to play sound gap defense and generate pressure with them. I had fun grading out these position groups and can’t wait to see what they do going into training camp.
Defensive Line: B
The defensive line could have a big year this year. Kenny Clark is starting to emerge as one of the best overall players in this defense. He is extremely effective from the shaded technique. At the snap of the ball, he locks on to the center and dictates where he wants to take him. Clark uses great pad level and plays with good leverage. More often than not, this is the technique we will see him play in. It has worked well for him, as I felt he played the run better than any player on the defense last season.
Opposite of him is Mike Daniels. Daniels didn’t have the year that I thought he would last season, but he has proved that he can be a monster from the 3 technique position. Daniels is a good pass rusher, and often times we will see him bull rush the guard right into the quarterbacks face. He isn’t too shabby in playing the run either. Daniels does a great job at staying on the playside shoulder of the blocker and staying square.
Outside Linebackers: B+
As I mentioned earlier, Za’Darius Smith is going to be a fantastic addition to the outside linebacker group. Smith can be an excellent rusher from multiple positions, both lining up on the outside or inside. Going into camp, Smith is probably the best pass rushing edge player in this group. The way that he gets under the pads of the tackle as he turns the corner is fantastic. Everything is done using leverage and a low hat. His first step off of the line is one thing I really like about his game. The initial step off the line of scrimmage often determines who will win and lose the battle between the rusher and the tackle.
Preston Smith will be getting his fair share in the rotation. To me, he was better at playing the run than the pass. In Washington’s defense, the edge player was used to force the plays inside, rather than spill them towards the boundary. This is where I feel he will do well. When watching tape, I noticed that he really does a fine job and taking on blocks with the inside shoulder and squeezing down blocks which takes away any runs to the B or C gap.
I’ll be watching closely where rookie edge player Rashan Gary fits into the mix. Many fans were unhappy with the pick, but after watching his tape I could not be more thrilled to have him in Green Bay. The thing that will hinder Gary’s performance is his lack of pass rush moves. He relied far too heavily on the bull rush while at Michigan, but with a little coaching and fine-tuning he could make an impact for this defense.
Don’t count out 2018 sack leader Kyler Fackrell. Fackrell had a tremendous season in 2018, and he’s a player who could find himself getting some decent playing time this season.
Inside Linebackers: C
The inside linebacker position is by far the weakest point of this defense. The problem is that there is little to no depth. Martinez had a decent 2018 showing, but a banged up Oren Burks often forced Pettine to play a lot of snaps with only one inside linebacker. This really hurts the run defense, especially against cutback runs. I would like to see both Martinez and Burks in the game at the same time this season. More bodies in the box simply mean that the offense will go to the air more. Martinez is an average player when dropping into coverage, but I think he can hold his own.
Defensive Backs: B+
For this category, I lumped both safeties and cornerbacks together because we could see some players who are interchangeable, such as Tramon Williams and Josh Jackson, though I doubt we’ll see them play much safety after the additions of Adrian Amos and rookie Darnell Savage. This group could have a big year in 2019. One of the players who could have a breakout year is second-year corner, Jaire Alexander. Alexander seemed to already be close to playing at Pro Bowl level last season. He has a fantastic break on the ball and quick closing speed. Quarterbacks will take notice where Alexander is before the snap. Right now, I feel like he’s the best corner on the team.
Tramon Williams will be the veteran player in this group and could offer a lot of guidance to younger players. Williams is one of the best man coverage players I’ve seen in Green Bay in years. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a lot of bump and run coverage called by Pettine in 2019. He always gets a good punch on the receiver at the snap of the ball, trails well and knows when to turn and look for the ball. Williams is a flexible player who could be played in a number of different positions.
I’m probably most excited to see safety Adrian Amos this year. Amos is the complete opposite of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. I loved watching film on Amos, especially against the run. Amos isn’t afraid to stick his nose in a gap and fill the ally. He delivers punishing tackles to the ball carrier and makes his presence felt every snap. Against the pass, Amos was used primarily as a free safety in Vic Fangio’s defense in Chicago, and I doubt we’ll see much different under Pettine.
Rookie Darnell Savage could emerge as the starting strong safety by the time camp is over. Savage is a great sideline to sideline player and has tremendous range. He seemingly always had a great feel for different route combinations being ran and took away plays in the flats. This will be crucial in Pettine’s defense, as he stresses cover 3 being ran a majority of the time.
I think the defense could be drastically improved this season. The Packers defense already improved going from Capers to Pettine, but this could be the year that it takes another step. There will be a lot of players and battles to keep your eye on in the 2019 training camp.
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