15

April

Cory’s Corner: Julius Peppers is No. 56…remain excited

I’ve never seen a number unveiling get this much excitement.

And for those of you that may not know, Julius Peppers will be wearing No. 56 next season for the Packers.

Julius Peppers will be wearing No. 56 next fall as he will play a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker position called the elephant.

Julius Peppers will be wearing No. 56 next fall as he will play a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker position called the elephant.

That’s quite a change for someone that was consistently coming off the edge as a defensive end in a three-point stance wearing No. 90.

But Peppers isn’t just an end. Thanks to Dom Capers and his crazy names, which have brought us the ‘Psycho’ defensive package, Peppers will be playing a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker called an elephant.

Personally, I don’t care if you call it strawberry shortcake because the name of Peppers’ position is meaningless. His stats and his motor speak for themselves. He’s been under double-digit sacks in a season just four times in his 12-year career.

The thing I like about Peppers most is his drive. I realize that he’s 34 and might be reaching the final leg of a strong NFL career. But the last time he didn’t play a full 16-game season was in 2007. That really says a lot to me. Especially for a guy that has played through a sprained MCL in his left knee, a broken right hand and a right knee sprain among other things. And the season that he suffered his right knee sprain was in 2007, a season in which he tallied his lowest sack output of his career with 2½. Yet he still managed to lead the Panthers in quarterback hurries.

Peppers is a guy that the Packers desperately needed. He’s a guy that will come in and not only contribute with a pass rush that has been forgotten, but he’s a vocal veteran that wants to win.

That’s a great combination for a team that has youngsters like Nick Perry and Datone Jones, who the Packers are counting on to break out and flourish.

Is it fair to compare Peppers to the 31-year-old Reggie White when he signed with Green Bay? No way. And I’m surprised I’ve seen people even make that comparison because it’s not not even close. White was a once-in-a-lifetime pass rusher who may never be copied again.

But that doesn’t mean Peppers doesn’t have plenty to play for.

28

March

Xs and Os: Do the Packers Have an Elephant in the Room?

Julius Peppers hopes to be a disruptive force for the Green Bay Packers defense.

Julius Peppers hopes to be a disruptive force for the Green Bay Packers defense.

When the Green Bay Packers signed defensive end Julius Peppers in free agency, lots of speculation about his future role with the team erupted.

We heard rumors circulating about a possible deployment of a “hybrid defense” and the “elephant end” position.

The reason for this speculation is Packers’ defensive Dom Capers employs a base 3-4 defense, which utilizes 3 defensive linemen and 4 linebackers.

However, Peppers is a 4-3 defensive end. The 4-3 defense utilizes 4 defensive linemen and 3 linebackers.

Because of this alignment difference, the defensive ends between both schemes have different body types and responsibilities.

Typically, 4-3 defensive ends are usually between 260-285 pounds and are long, fluid athletes. On the other hand, 3-4 defensive ends are between 300-340 pounds and are more of the wrecking ball type.

The reason for these different body types has to do with defensive gap control.

Gap control is how the defense puts its players in proper position, mainly for stopping the running game, but also secondarily when establishing pass rushing lanes.

The 3-4 defense typically uses a double gap system, meaning that each defender in the front 7 is responsible for defending 2 gaps in the offensive formation.

This is very much a read and react system where each player anticipates where the ball will go and move to that location as the play develops. At the snap of the ball, the defensive linemen stand up their blockers, clog the position, and move to the lane where the ball is.

Linebackers also have double control and flow to the ball as the runner hits the lane.

Legend: T = Tackle G = Guard C = Center TE = Tight end DE = Defensive end NT = Nose tackle S = Sam (strong side linebacker) M = Mike (middle linebacker) W = Will (weak side linebacker) J = Jack linebacker

Legend:
T = Tackle, G = Guard, C = Center, TE = Tight end, DE = Defensive end, NT = Nose tackle, S = Sam (strong side linebacker), M = Mike (middle linebacker), W = Will (weak side linebacker), J = Jack linebacker

The 3-4 defense relies on strength to control the gaps, which is why the defensive linemen are large. However, the Jack linebacker, such as Clay Matthews, is free to roam and do damage over a large portion of the field, including rushing the passer.

In contrast, the 4-3 defense is traditionally a single gap defense, which means each front 7 defender controls only 1 lane.

Legend: DT = Defensive tackle

Legend:
DT = Defensive tackle

8

March

Cory’s Corner: B.J. Raji has regrets right now

After turning down $8 million from the Packers earlier this year, B.J. Raji must decide if he wants a one-year $4 million offer.

After turning down $8 million from the Packers earlier this year, B.J. Raji must decide if he wants a one-year $4 million offer.

I am sure that B.J. Raji is probably kicking himself about now.

The Packers’ fifth-year defensive lineman was offered an $8 million contract in the middle of last season but defiantly turned it down.

And now, Green Bay is low-balling their one-time Pro Bowler with a one-year $4 million offer. Ted Thompson knows that a prove-it contract is the perfect situation for a guy that, despite playing out of position, was nearly invisible on the football field.

Thompson has also realized that if Raji has already turned down $8 million, how much more would other teams be willing to risk when the free agency signing period begins on Tuesday at 3 p.m.?

Raji is an interesting study because in Dom Capers’ 3-4 defense, he needs an anchor up front. He needs someone that will eat a blocker or two and clear a path for the linebackers. You could almost call him a defensive fullback.

But here’s the rub with Raji: the rest of the starting defensive line are also free agents. Ryan Pickett will turn 35 next season and has lost a few steps. His career high for tackles was 48 in 2005 and last year he tallied 19. Mike Neal is interesting because he’s so versatile. He was tied for third on the team with five sacks and he did it as a defensive end and an outside linebacker.

Raji hasn’t done much to impress anyone the last two seasons — 29 tackles and zero sacks. But there are teams that would be willing to dig a little deeper into the wallet just because he’s a large human being and there aren’t a lot of those to go around.

Thompson is doing the right thing with the low-money offer. I was astonished when he offered $8 million this year and I was even more astonished when Raji turned it down.

It’s hard to believe that Raji was taken as the ninth overall pick in 2009. He clearly has motivation issues if you cannot get charged up to play in the NFL — in a contract year. You hate to label a guy as a bust before he has even turned 30, but Raji doesn’t really give anyone a lot to work with. The one Pro Bowl season and the interception return for a touchdown that put the Packers in the Super Bowl are his career highlights. At best, he’s a work-in-progress and at worst he’s a big oops.

7

March

Dom Capers Green Bay Packers 2013 Evaluation and Report Card

dom capers

Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers

1) Introduction:  Ever since the Packers won the Super Bowl in 2011, Capers’ defenses have been banged up, overmatched, pushed around and just plain lousy. The backlash against Capers has gotten so loud in Green Bay, there is actually a small backlash to the backlash going on. You know the backlash is bad when people start backlashing against the Capers backlash.

2) Profile:

Dom Capers

  • Age: 63
  • Born: 8/7/1950, in Cambridge, OH
  • NFL Coaching Experience: 28 years

Biography and more

3) Expectations coming into the season:  Build a more physical defense. It worked the first part of the season. Then injuries started wiping out key players and most of the middle of the defense completely disappeared.

The Packers in 2013 weren’t a complete mess on defense like they were in 2011. At times they were even better than they were in 2012. But at no point in the season did you ever feel like this defense was good enough to step up and carry the team for an extended stretch, if needed. They just weren’t good enough.

4) Season Highlights/Lowlights:  With Aaron Rodgers out and the Packers needing late defensive stops to have a shot at stealing games against Chicago and Philadelphia in weeks 9 and 10, Capers’ defense went in the tank. The Bears held the ball for almost 9 minutes to seal the game and the Eagles for 9 minutes, 32 seconds to wrap up the victory. The defense also looked absolutely helpless in a blowout loss to Detroit on Thanksgiving.

Highlights included holding the Lions (without Calvin Johnson) to nine points in week 5 and coming up with a gritty performance the following week against Baltimore to help the Packers win despite several key injuries.

5) Contribution to the overall team success:  I don’t know…do we give Capers credit for Sam Shields’ interception against the Cowboys? Do we pat Capers on the back for not allowing the Bears to score after the Rodgers-Randall Cobb miracle in Chicago?

This is where it gets tricky with Capers and why the people backlashing against the Capers backlash have a point: We get all ticked off at Capers when the Packers defense gets run over, then give credit to individual players instead of Capers when the Packers defense does something positive.

14

February

Big-name free agent targets for the “big-spending” Packers

Could free agent safety Louis Delmas join Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb in Green Bay? Never say never.

Could free agent safety Louis Delmas join Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb in Green Bay? Never say never.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Feb. 12 that the Packers, armed with $30 million in cap space, are prepared to spend on outside free agents this offseason to remake the defense in Dom Capers’ image.

Capers has been in Green Bay for five seasons, so the wording is a bit confusing. Surely, the Packers haven’t given Capers a team of bobsledders and asked him to mold them into an attacking 3-4 defense. But regardless, Rapoport’s report ignited a spark of hope among Packers fans that the team would make a rare dip into free agency.

With all due respect to Matthew Mulligan and Duke Preston, the Packers haven’t made any “splash” moves in free agency since 2006 — when they signed both cornerback Charles Woodson and defensive lineman Ryan Pickett.

The Packers’ offseason spending spree got off to a roaring start with Thursday’s addition of fourth-year undrafted free agent tight end Raymond Webber. That was sarcasm. But it’s rather comical that a portion of the fan base almost seems upset that Webber’s name isn’t Jimmy Graham.

Of course, the Packers’ $30 million in cap space won’t be $30 million for long, as they’ll be forced to spend about $5 million on this year’s rookie class. And with Sam Shields, Evan Dietrich-Smith, and others (perhaps Jordy Nelson and/or Randall Cobb) likely to receive contract extensions, that number will continue to shrink.

But should the Packers let B.J. Raji walk — which seems more likely than not, given Raji’s production, or lack thereof, the past two seasons and his reported rejection of a contract extension that would have paid him $8 million per year — then they’ll have some financial flexibility to perhaps spend on veterans. Take into account Jermichael Finley’s cloudy future coming off major neck surgery, and the Packers could, really, become players in free agency.

As far as positions of need, the Packers could use help at every level of the defense. The opposite can be said about the offense, with the exception of tight end, at which they could still bring back Finley or opt for a cheaper option in Andrew Quarless.

Here are a few bigger-name free agents the Packers could — probably won’t — but could target once free agency hits.

13

February

World to Spin Backwards, Packers Ted Thompson to Delve into Free Agency

Packers GM Ted Thompson

Packers GM Ted Thompson

A report last night from NFL Insider Ian Rappaport claims sources within the Packers have told him Green Bay will reverse course this off-season and look to put together a more dynamic defense via free agent signings.

NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport said Wednesday on “NFL Total Access” that the Packers plan to take advantage of their nearly $30 million in cap space and acquire outside free agents, according to sources informed of the team’s thinking. Rapoport reported on NFL Network that the Packerscould sign as many as five players, which would be the most for the team since 2006.

 And who will Green Bay target? According to Rapoport, the team is committed to rebuilding its defense in a way that best suits the philosophy of defensive coordinator Dom Capers. That means getting more athletic and versatile along the defensive line. A major goal is to improve their ability to blitz and get after the quarterback. Green Bay finished with 44 sacks last season, tied for eighth in the league.

FULL ARTICLE HERE

My initial reaction is: NOW you want to tailor your defense to Dom Capers’ philosophy? So what have we been doing since the Super Bowl win? Is this saying that the drafting of such players as Mike Neal, Morgan Burnett, Nick Perry, Jerel Worthy, etc, has been a mistake?

Is this purely a reactionary move after watching the dynamic Seattle defense destroy the Broncos? As in, “yeah, that’s what we should do?”

Then there’s the question of how accurate this information is. And what level of free agency are we talking about? Will the Packers actually participate on day one or two?

I suppose if this is true, I should just be happy. But I can’t shake the feeling that things got a bit too comfortable for everyone the last few seasons and opportunities were squandered.

In any case, time for everyone to man the battle stations – we’re sailing through uncharted waters here…

Without this becoming a flaming Ted Thompson hate fest, I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts:

——————

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Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.

19

January

Packers, Capers really missed Casey Hayward in 2013

Casey Hayward wasn't the Packers' only missing link in 2013, but he was certainly missed. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)

Casey Hayward wasn’t the Packers’ only missing link in 2013, but he was certainly missed. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)

As a rookie in 2012, Packers cornerback Casey Hayward was one of three finalists for the league’s Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ fourth-best cornerback–the second-round pick trailed only established veterans Antoine Winfield, Richard Sherman and Charles Tillman.

After Hayward intercepted a team-best six passes and holding opposing passers to an abysmal 31.1 passer rating, the Packers had high hopes for Hayward, as they cut ties with their veteran leader and turnover-creator Charles Woodson following the 2012 season.

But Hayward’s encore was disrupted by a recurring hamstring issue, limiting him to appearing in just three games. He played 88 snaps.

With Woodson playing in Oakland and Hayward on the sideline, the Packers were left searching for a solution in the slot early last season. Sam Shields and Tramon Williams had fine seasons, but both are better suited for the perimeter. Micah Hyde didn’t play like a rookie, as he took over as the primary punt returner while proving to be a reliable run defender and a versatile cover man.

All things considered, the Packers’ cornerbacks fared well, but they were seriously lacking in one area.

For as long as Dom Capers has served as defensive coordinator in Green Bay, the Packers defense has relied heavily on takeaways. Woodson intercepted 19 passes and forced 11 fumbles during Capers’ tenure, which began in 2009. When Capers served as defensive coordinator with the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1992-1994, he had another Woodson (Rod), who intercepted 16 passes in three seasons with Capers.

But for the first time since taking over in Green Bay, Capers was without his X-Factor in 2013. He didn’t have a play-maker. He certainly didn’t have a Woodson.

For a defense that had grown accustomed to bending but not breaking, losing its turnover-creating wild card would be like throwing Capers in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean without a raft. Hayward’s 88 snaps were a makeshift life vest, but Capers and the defense remained stranded and searching for answers.

It would be foolish to assume Hayward’s career will unfold like Woodson’s, but you don’t let go of your high-school sweetheart without a winner on deck. The Packers had a plan for Life After Woodson, but that plan (Hayward) fell by the wayside thanks to the injury bug.