Friday, July 25, 2014

Five Key Things To Watch In Camp: Number 1 - Julius Peppers and the Defense

Julius Peppers comes to Green Bay as one of the biggest free agent signings in GM Ted Thompson's tenure, and he is the face of the new look defense Dom Capers is bringing to the Packers in 2014. While everyone will be watching to see how many sacks he records, he's only going to succeed if Capers's new defense is a hit.
If you look at the defensive front seven, which is where the new defensive look should be obvious, the roster is mostly the same as it was in 2013. Peppers is on board, along with rookies DE Khyri Thornton and LB Carl Bradford, but the rookies might barely play in the early goings. The only mountain on the line remaining is NT B.J. Raji (gone are Pickett and Jolly) and the Packers could frequently line up with only two 300 lb. lineman and an army of linebackers and defensive backs behind them. That formation will be easier to run against, but it'll be hard for a receiver to find any room in coverage.

Capers described the defense as "less volume, more packages" which actually brings some simplicity to the defense. The personnel on the field will "dictate the defense" instead of going with the same personnel group and asking them to do different things. I expect that means he'll be coaching more to his players' strengths.

So Peppers might be playing primarily at linebacker, but he's still listed as a LB/DE, so there should be packages that line him up at defensive end. It's probably the same role they had in mind for Mike Neal last season, but injuries forced Neal to play at linebacker most of the time. Asking Nick Perry to play the same role wouldn't be a bad idea either because he's never looked great dropping back into coverage.

We should be seeing more players rotating on and off the field in 2014, and maybe they'll keep an extra defensive end and linebacker on the roster. However, the disappointing thing is that we might not see what this new defense looks like until the regular season. The Packers have already coached the players on how these new packages work during OTAs, but there's no incentive to give the rest of the NFL an early look during the preseason. Maybe a few of them will be shown, but the Packers will probably play nothing other than their base defense as they evaluate some of the fringe roster candidates during the bulk of the preseason games.

While everyone will be watching Peppers and the new look defense this season, unfortunately neither of them should be seen much during the preseason games.

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