Defense Adjusting To Headset Addition

For the Packers, OTAs and mini-camp are always a time to work on the scheme and communication with teammates, but for the defense, this offseason has brought the added adjustment of working with headsets to receive the calls from the sideline.

The new rule that allows defensive coaches to radio in their calls through a headset was approved at this year's owners' meetings in early April. One defensive player will be allowed to wear a helmet similar to what the quarterback uses on offense to receive the call directly from the coaches rather than relying on hand signals from the sideline.

The Packers have been using the communication devices with certain players throughout OTAs and again in this week's mini-camp, and Head Coach Mike McCarthy is pleased with how the defense is adjusting to the new technology at its disposal.

"We'll continue to use it through camp, really to get the players used to it, having the voice in their ear, and also the time frame that you're able to talk to the defensive player," McCarthy said. "We have a 40-second clock out there that operates and is used on every play. We've been using it throughout and we'll continue to use it through training camp, and it's really gone very smooth."

Several linebackers and safeties have practiced with the headsets during offseason workouts, with middle linebacker Nick Barnett being one of the leading candidates to have the device in his helmet during the regular season since he rarely comes off the field. For him, the adjustment to having a voice in his ear is a work in progress.

"Sometimes as he is talking and I'm trying to get the play out (to teammates) at the same time, sometimes you get a little confused because you say, 'OK, I am trying to say this,' but you are hearing stuff at the same time," Barnett said. "I think it just takes a little time to get used to. I don't mind it."

McCarthy talks to the quarterback through the headset during games for the Packers, and during offseason practices, defensive coordinator Bob Sanders has been communicating with some of the linebackers and safeties through the device. Even with the headsets available, Sanders said the team will make preparations for all of the scenarios that could come up during a game.

"We'll have different guys work with it and we'll change some guys eventually to make sure everyone gets used to hearing it and doing it," Sanders said. "We'll also have our wristbands ready and our signals ready. Whatever happens, we'll be ready to go."

McCarthy said that during his time in the league working with different quarterbacks, it has varied from player to player as far as how comfortable they were with a coach talking to them leading up to the snap.

"Back in '94, when it came into the league, I just remember certain quarterbacks did not want a lot of information," McCarthy said. "They wanted the play and that was it. And that was probably because of their experience of coming off of having the play signaled to them for so long. They had to learn the formations and they just wanted the play and get going.

"Actually the first person that I ever worked with was in '99 when I was up here with Brett (Favre), you could talk to him all the way up until the 15-second mark when they cut it off, and I found that the younger quarterbacks like it that way too."

Teams will also be permitted to have one other player on defense with the communication device in his helmet as well, but both players with the headset cannot be on the field at the same time. The players using the headsets will be designated with a green dot on their helmets.

Free safety Nick Collins, who also has spent time working with the headset in his helmet this offseason, noted that the two-minute drill will be one of the areas where the defense might benefit the most from the new system put in place by the NFL.

"The offense has the advantage because they are moving real quick and we are looking at the sideline, trying to get the calls, and they are lined up already, "Collins said. "I think in two-minute it will help the best."

Barnett agreed that the impact will be felt during two-minute situations, with defensive players being able to focus on one player for the call rather than all looking over at the sideline for a signal.

"Usually in the two-minute drill you have everybody looking over to the sideline and someone is getting this half of the call and getting that half of the call," Barnett said. "With us having the speaker in our helmet, everyone is going to know that I am going to have the official call and able to just communicate it and then everybody just passes it along."

Another potential plus for the defense will be the decreased opportunity for their signals to be stolen by the opposition.

"A lot of times Coach (Winston) Moss is hiding behind somebody trying to hide the sign because we've had some people who steal our signs," linebacker Brady Poppinga said. "Now this is going to be more basic. We just need to sort of sit there and listen to Nick (Barnett) and go and do our thing. It's going to be much easier.

"It's just going to be cleaner football. For us defensive guys we're not going to be running around like chickens with our heads cut off trying to get the sign and we'll know what we are doing. It will be better quality football in the long run."

Like much of what the team works on during the offseason, the new communication system will begin to be put to the test when August arrives and the preseason games begin.

"That's what the preseason is for," Barnett said. "During practice you can only do so much. Once we get into a game environment where they actually shut it off with 15 seconds left, that's when we're going to be able to really tell how we are going to be able to use this speaker."

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