Nixon on Hafley: ‘He’s Competitive as Hell’

During an appearance on Up & Adams, Green Bay Packers defensive back Keisean Nixon discussed what new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley has brought to the team.
Keisean Nixon at Packers OTAs
Keisean Nixon at Packers OTAs / Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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This is not the same old Green Bay Packers’ defense.

At least that sounds like it’s going to be the case according to the players that will be playing for new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley.

For years, the Packers’ defense was on the back burner. The offense, led by Aaron Rodgers and his star-studded group of receivers, led the way. The defense was simply asked to not get in their way, but offer enough resistance to opposing offenses.

Being good enough was considered good enough.

Coach Matt LaFleur decided this offseason that was not going to cut it any longer.

Former coordinator Joe Barry’s defense had a strong finish to the season, giving up 19 points in its final two regular-season games before playing well in the playoffs against Dallas and San Francisco.

Instead of sticking with what was familiar, something LaFleur said was important after a disastrous 2022 season saw the Packers miss the playoffs, LaFleur wanted to aim higher.

Instead of an established coordinator like Don “Wink” Martindale, LaFleur’s hire took everyone by surprise. Boston College head cach Jeff Hafley was the man he tabbed to try to catapult Green Bay’s defense to the top of the league.

The reviews from the players thus far are glowing.

When defensive back Keisean Nixon joined Kay Adams on Up & Adams, he joined the chorus of cheers surrounding the hire of Green Bay’s new defensive coordinator.

One of the common complaints surrounding the Packers’ defense under Barry was the lack of aggression.

Zone coverage led to easy completions, which led to long drives down. Big plays were limited, but points for the opposition largely were not.

Green Bay’s defense never found its next level under Barry.

As a result, perhaps by design, LaFleur went with someone that seems to have a polar-opposite approach.

Hafley’s approach is one of the reasons that Nixon found himself back in Green Bay.

“We had great conversations.” Nixon told Adams. “This is one of the reasons I came back. Jeff is a competitive guy. He’s a DB coach, also. I’ve never had that in the league where my DC is the DB guy, too. He’s kind of running through the back end. I think it’s a great idea.”

That competition is something that is breeding throughout the rest of the defense.

Rookies that came in have been asked to earn their sports as opposed to being handed one as a result of their draft status.

When they are on the field, they have been moved all over the field, which has resonated with Nixon and the rest of the defense.

“Man, Haf is a cool dude. Short guy, so he kind of got like little-man syndrome, I think, but he’s competitive as hell. He goes at Matt LaFleur.” Nixon said.

“He brings the best out of us and we like playing for him, so the defense is ready to go for sure.”

When asked further about going after LaFleur, Nixon said:

“He’s not scared of head coach being an offensive guy. Some coaches complement offensive coaches in practice and stuff like that. Haf came in right away blitzing on third down stuff like that. He was ready to go.”

Perhaps the key line is the last bit of Nixon’s quote there. The Packers are unlikely to resemble the defenses run by former Philadelphia Eagles’ legend Jim Johnson, whose blitz-heavy schemes were a staple of the early 2000s, but they should be more aggressive in getting after the quarterback.

Sending more guys at the quarterback usually means there will be an increase in man coverage, as well.

That should better suit Green Bay’s trio of cornerbacks, Eric Stokes, Carrington Valentine and Jaire Alexander, who recently expressed his excitement about playing in a new system.

“You see it across the board, we’ve got a bunch of athletes on the field who like to make plays and can make plays,” Alexander said at the team’s OTA in May. “I think this is going to work really well.”

The excitement of the defensive backs is not going to slow down opposing offenses.

Green Bay’s defense has to prove itself on the field.  

For now, however, as optimism reigns supreme, morale is high.

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Jacob Westendorf

JACOB WESTENDORF

Jacob Westendorf, who has covered the Green Bay Packers since 2015, is a writer for Packer Central, a Sports Illustrated channel. E-mail: jacobwestendorf24@gmail.com History: Westendorf started writing for Packer Central in 2023. Twitter: https://twitter.com/JacobWestendorf Background: Westendorf graduated from University of Wisconsin-Green Bay where he earned a degree in communication with an emphasis in journalism and mass media. He worked in newspapers in Green Bay and Rockford, Illinois. He also interned at Packer Report for Bill Huber while earning his degree. In 2018, he became a staff writer for PackerReport.com, and a regular contributor on Packer Report's "Pack A Day Podcast." In 2020, he founded the media company Game On Wisconsin. In 2023, he rejoined Packer Central, which is part of Sports Illustrated Media Group.