Linebacker Brandon Chillar has been working with the No. 1 defense throughout the offseason and training camp with starter Nick Barnett sidelined, but Chillar's performance thus far in camp shows that he is ready to make a sizeable contribution this season in whatever role he is eventually given.
Chillar is currently the starter at the 'Mack' linebacker spot, the weak-side position on the inside opposite A.J. Hawk, with Barnett still on the physically-unable-to-perform list due to his 2008 knee injury. He has also received some reps on the outside in Dom Capers' 3-4 scheme.
"You could make an argument that Brandon Chillar is our most productive linebacker to this point in training camp," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "He seems very natural in the pressure packages, both base and sub."
Chillar played the weak-side spot last season in Bob Sanders' 4-3 scheme, and saw action primarily in the nickel package early on. He was often called upon to match up against the tight end, getting his first start with the Packers in Week 3 against Dallas and Jason Witten, and he showed off his coverage abilities by leading the linebackers with a career-high nine passes defensed in '08.
After Barnett went down in Week 10 last season with a torn ACL at Minnesota, Chillar moved into the starting lineup, opening up six of the last seven games at the 'Will' position with Hawk moving to the middle in Barnett's absence.
Despite starting only once in the first nine games of '08, Chillar ended up being on the field for 490-of-1,050 (46.7 percent) of the defensive snaps for the season.
"I've got a lot of trust in the coaches and everybody in the organization here," Chillar said. "They took care of me last year. I worked hard and then I ended up getting on the field."
Now in a new scheme, Chillar has continued that hard work on and off the field as he and the rest of the linebackers have picked up some added responsibilities.
"There are many different things really, from blitzing to going sideline-to-sideline to taking on fullbacks, everything," Chillar said. "You've got to be able to do everything in this scheme. You have a little less protection (from linemen) in the 3-4, but you can kind of make up for it by using your technique.
"I have been learning every day. It's just getting in the book, seeing it on film, seeing it in the classroom, and then going out on the field and trying to execute it."
Although Chillar said blitzing isn't something he has been asked to do much during his first five years in the league, he feels it could become a strength of his in the new scheme.
"I think it could be," Chillar said. "I think I am getting better every day. I think I am good at it, but I need to improve still, and that's what I am working on. I like to attack."
The 26-year-old Chillar signed with the Packers last offseason as an unrestricted free agent after spending his first four years with the St. Louis Rams. He played in 63 of a possible 64 games for the Rams with 40 starts, showing his versatility by opening up on the weak side and the strong side during his time there.
"He's someone that can play a number of different positions and can give us flexibility in our coverage schemes," McCarthy said. "Another instinctive football player, has excellent range. We also expect him to be an impactful player on special teams."
Chillar finished fourth on the team with 14 coverage stops in '08, which matched his career best, and is expected to play a prominent role on special teams again.
Chillar's responsibilities this season in Green Bay's defense may partially depend on when Barnett is able to get back to full speed. Combine Chillar's ability to play multiple spots with the various sub packages that Capers utilizes, and he shouldn't have a problem getting reps somewhere in '09.
"I think there are opportunities there for me if I continue to play well," Chillar said. "Hopefully I can steal some plays.
"Obviously I want to play, but to be a team player you've got to accept your role. So whatever it is, I am going to try to do well at it."