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De'Vondre Campbell ready for Packers' defense to 'just line up and go'

All-Pro inside linebacker confident in himself and his unit

LB De'Vondre Campbell
LB De'Vondre Campbell

GREEN BAY – A year ago, so much was new.

Joe Barry was the Packers' new defensive coordinator, and linebacker De'Vondre Campbell was the new man in the middle, calling the signals.

After some rough moments early, things melded together nicely. By season's end, the Packers' defense was playing its best football, and Campbell earned his first All-Pro selection, along with a new contract in the offseason.

From Campbell's perspective, there were "little kinks" to work out that first year as far as the communication from his coordinator, to him, to the huddle. But there's a message the Packers' star inside linebacker feels he delivered that won't need to go through another feeling-out process in 2022.

"I'd say one thing he did learn about me is that I like to get it in and get it out quick," Campbell said of the calls from Barry. "I don't feel like we always need to be in the perfect call. There's no such thing as a perfect call.

"I think he understands he has a bunch of great players that, if we just line up and go, we can compete against anyone."

That's the overwhelming sentiment about a unit that finished strong in the postseason and might have even more to offer this year. The cornerback trio of Jaire Alexander, Rasul Douglas and Eric Stokes played together for just eight snaps last season, all in the playoff game. A veteran (Jarran Reed) and first-round draft pick (Devonte Wyatt) were added to the defensive line.

More specific to Campbell, a first-round draft pick in Quay Walker also was selected to line up next to him, and having two 6-foot-4, size/speed specimens in the middle of all the action could change the way Green Bay does some things.

Campbell has been highly complimentary of Walker, pointing out how smart, self-critical and level-headed he is, even going so far to say the rookie doesn't ask him many questions because "he gets it, he studies, he knows and he understands." Campbell also appreciates that Walker came from a national championship Georgia program and has played in plenty of big games before, so there's no hand-holding necessary.

What the combination of Campbell and Walker could do is allow the Packers to match up differently on third downs. In the past, a third-down passing situation frequently required dime (six-DB) personnel, leaving just one inside linebacker on the field.

The range and skillset of the Campbell-Walker duo will give Barry the choice of sticking with nickel (five-DB) personnel and asking one of the inside linebackers to cover a perimeter threat. Such a package will keep the defense stout enough to stop a surprise run and provide a bigger body as a blitz option as well.

"He just brings another dimension to our team from a disguising standpoint," Campbell said. "When you put dime out there on the field, everybody understands why you're doing it. You need that extra DB to cover.

"With him being out there – with both of us being out there – (in) nickel, we can run with receivers, tight ends and running backs. It allows a lot more versatility in our scheme."

How the Packers deploy that diversity in Week 1 at Minnesota will be one of the game's storylines. The Vikings have a triumvirate of proven offensive weapons in running back Dalvin Cook and receivers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen being incorporated now into new head coach Kevin O'Connell's Rams-like scheme.

There will be plenty of unknown. As the centerpiece and signal-caller on defense, Campbell will be trying to process as much as he can, and quickly.

"We just have to prepare with the information we have," Campbell said. "The first couple series are just going to be reading your keys and playing ball, and we'll kind of know after about a quarter what to expect, so we can go from there after that."

It'll help that Campbell is as instinctive as they come. Walking into a brand-new defense in mid-June last year and being voted first-team All-Pro by late December shows how naturally Campbell became a leader and playmaker once given the opportunity.

Repeating as an All-Pro is a significant individual challenge for Campbell, but it's not at the forefront of his thoughts. The overall performance of the unit is, and for all the talk surrounding the Packers' defense this year, it's finally time to play.

Campbell is confident in himself, and in his teammates, that if they "handle business" the way they should, the rest will be what it will be.

"We've just got to go out and do what we do," he said. "We know how good we can be, but it doesn't matter about he said, she said. We've just got to go out and show it."

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