GREEN BAY, Wis. – Defensively, the Green Bay Packers have the same coordinator and largely the same personnel up front.
That means fixing a run defense that finished 24th in the NFL with 4.67 yards allowed per carry last season will require a new attitude.
“One of the things we’re not going to do is teach our guys, ‘Hey, this is your gap. You absolutely, 100 percent need to stay in it,’” defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said recently. “We talk about up front, d-line especially, we want to get knock-back. We don’t want to play lateral at the line of scrimmage. We want to be aggressive up front. If I’m lined up outside shade of the guard and I knock him 2 yards back in the backfield and my helmet ends up in the A gap, so be it. That’s a win. You’re out of your gap, but the distance that we’ve created with the knock-back gives the linebackers a chance to overlap it. That’s a concept that takes sometimes some linebackers a little bit longer to learn, but it’s something that we believe in. We don’t want to play lateral. We want to attack up the field. We’re big believers in our system. When it’s executed correctly, we can play run damn well in pretty good stretches.”
The Packers will have a different tandem at linebacker this season. Veteran Christian Kirksey was signed to replace Blake Martinez for the every-down role, while draft picks Oren Burks (third round, 2018), Ty Summers (seventh round, 2019) and Kamal Martin (fifth round, 2020) will be among those competing to be the other linebacker.
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The answer to that question will be clear when the Packers begin their pregame warmups in a little while.
Up front, though, the Packers again will rely on the familiar trio of Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry and Tyler Lancaster. Returning players Montravius Adams and Kingsley Keke and street free-agent additions Treyvon Hester and Gerald Willis will vie for roster spots and snaps.
Maybe Adams, who is trending toward being a third-round bust, will realize his potential. Maybe Keke will take a second-year jump. Maybe Willis will find the form that made him an All-American at the University of Miami.
However it happens, somehow, someway, the Packers need someone other than Clark to turn into something other than an occasional menace. Since the impact play that was missing last season won’t be delivered by some hot-shot addition, it must be done through better performance and attitude. Do the Packers have anyone capable of providing that knock-back that Pettine referenced?
“We do,” he said. “I think when our guys are focused in and their initial footwork is good. Tyler has certainly put it on tape where in the run game matchup he’s certainly capable of it. Dean, as well. And sometimes that’s hard for Dean, being as tall and long-levered as he is, a higher center of gravity. But when his technique is right, he’s certainly shown that he can do it, as well. I just think the key thing in that room is beyond those three. We relied on those three too much last year and need Keke to step up and need Mon to step up. The Willises and the Hesters and those guys (have) an understanding of, ‘Hey, this is a great opportunity and we need …’ You always want to have fresh legs there and have a rotation to roll guys through. We’re looking forward to getting those guys out there – especially the new guys – and seeing what they can do.”