Defense remains Packers’ focus on Day 1 of draft

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GREEN BAY – About six weeks ago, Brian Gutekunst added two pass rushers and a safety on the first day of free agency.

On the first day of the draft, he added one more player at each spot.

To say the Packers’ second-year GM has restocked the defense in two key places would be a significant understatement.

“Obviously it was a focus of ours – we wanted to improve our defense,” Gutekunst said after drafting Michigan’s Rashan Gary and Maryland’s Darnell Savage with a pair of first-round picks Thursday night.

“We certainly added a number of bodies to that and guys we’re really excited about. Football is a team game and guys will have to come together and gel, but we like the way these guys are wired.”

Gary joins new additions Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith at outside linebacker, while Savage could find himself starting at safety from the get-go alongside newcomer Adrian Amos.

In what Gutekunst perceived as a draft loaded on defense, he found the best value on that side of the ball.

Gary was the first pick, at No. 12 overall, and at 6-foot-4, 277 pounds he’ll bring a body type similar to the Smiths’ to coordinator Mike Pettine’s defense. All three fresh faces are projected to line up outside or inside in pass-rush packages, giving Pettine a multitude of options, particularly on third down.

“These are big men with length and power and speed,” Gutekunst said. “We felt we needed to get bigger in the front, and we have, and we needed to get more explosive in the front, and we have.

“We need to affect the passer on third down.”

The Packers also got a lot faster on defense, with the 40 times of Gary (4.58) and Savage (4.36) at the top of the charts for their positions.

The knocks on Gary are his limited number of sacks (9½ over three years for the Wolverines) and a supposed hot-and-cold motor, which had many analysts predicting he wouldn’t get taken this high. Gutekunst didn’t see legitimacy in the criticisms and felt the media wrongly latched onto the narratives.

“You watch the tape and look at different kinds of stats, he affected the passer,” he said. “He affected the game, and at times he wrecked it.

“I disagree (on the effort question). I think that’s people that haven’t done their homework there. This guy plays with his hair on fire.”

Gutekunst maintained the courage of his convictions on Savage, trading a pair of fourth-round picks to Seattle to move up nine spots to No. 21, rather than sit at No. 30 and hope the Maryland safety fell that far.

Savage’s sideline-to-sideline ability and ball-hawking skills (eight college INTs) were “rare” to Gutekunst, and the price he paid to assure he got him – as the first defensive back taken in the entire draft, no less – speaks to the difference he feels Savage can make right away in Pettine’s scheme.

“Giving up three for one wasn’t something I was super encouraged about, that I really wanted to do,” Gutekunst said. “But for this particular player, it’s what I wanted to do.”

Now he heads into Day 2 having not addressed the offense, yet, for new Head Coach Matt LaFleur. Offensive line, tight end, receiver and running back are all depth needs and on the radar. He has two picks on Friday night and four on Saturday, at this point.

“I’d like to think we’re still going to stay true to allowing the best player available to come to us, but I do have an offensive coach sitting to my left in the room,” Gutekunst said.

“We did some things in free agency to allow the board to come to us. This is one of the better defensive drafts in a long time, and we’re really excited how it turned out tonight.”

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