GREEN BAY – For all the talk about Mike Pettine’s defense being “likeable and learnable,” there’s another trait of the Packers’ new defensive coordinator that’s been mentioned more than once.
“What he’s trying to bring is a mentality, and all the small details are highlighted,” outside linebacker Clay Matthews said during the Packers’ first week of organized team activities (OTAs). “There’s just a lot that goes into meetings you can take away.”
Not that Pettine’s predecessor, Dom Capers, didn’t pay attention to detail. No one could coach at the highest level as long as Capers without that characteristic.
But every coordinator has a different approach, and the fact that multiple players are noticing Pettine’s focus on the finer points speaks to the level of buy-in from the get-go.
Perhaps that means the little things themselves are new, to some degree, to even the most seasoned pros like Matthews, which seems to be creating an eagerness to get everything implemented and see the defense in action.
“We’re really looking forward to it,” said Matthews, who is currently sitting out the on-field work following an offseason procedure on his knee. “We’ve got a lot of moving pieces, a lot of young guys.
“With the amount of turnover we had, I think people feel kind of a sense of renewed energy, ready for something new and ready to hold our end of the bargain, finally.”
That’s a sentiment expressed many times since the Packers’ Super Bowl title at the beginning of the decade. Mike McCarthy rephrased it with his “defense must be better than the offense” line from earlier this offseason.
No one will know whether the Packers can accomplish that under Pettine until the games start 3½ months from now, but the work is ongoing.
Matthews mentioned counting on young players, and getting them up to speed will be paramount. While the veterans have been making their way through Pettine’s playbook since mid-April, the rookies are just getting started, and players like cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson (the Packers’ top two draft picks) could be counted on to play a lot right away.
He also called on the edge rushers behind him and Nick Perry – a group that includes Reggie Gilbert, Kyler Fackrell, Vince Biegel, Chris Odom and rookie seventh-round pick Kendall Donnerson – to step forward and provide the rotational strength the position group will need over the long haul of a 16-game season.
Neither of those progressions will happen overnight, but both are necessary given how the roster currently stands and with how it sounds like Pettine wants to play defense.
Matthews used the terms “aggressive” and “disruptive” to describe the new scheme, but there’s more to it.
“I think we’re going to bring a multitude of pressures and move guys around,” he said. “It’s just a defense that hopefully gives offensive coordinators problems because they don’t know what to expect, and gives quarterbacks different looks that they’re not expecting at certain times.”
So, add unpredictable to the list of adjectives, another way to keep things fresh for veterans like Matthews.
“Hopefully we can keep pace with the offense that we’ve had here for so many years, and be a top-tier defense,” he said. “I’d like to think we have the guys and the coaching staff.”