GREEN BAY—The Packers defense made a major leap from dead last in the league in 2011 to 11th in 2012, but the celebration was dulled by meltdowns against the Giants, Vikings and 49ers. So how does Dom Capers' defense regain its good name and what's the next level for the Packers defense?
"My expectation is to continue to improve. Our goal is to climb and be the best. We want to continue to improve and I feel confident we can with the young people we have," the Packers defensive coordinator said this week.
The reputation they built for themselves in the team's 2010 championship run took a major hit in '11, when the Packers fell to the bottom of the league's yardage rankings, despite leading the league in takeaways. The takeaways declined sharply last year despite a much stronger performance in sacks and in denying yards and points.
Clearly, the next level would be a combination of sacks, takeaways and a continued rise up the yardage rankings.
The Packers' last two first-round picks should help sacks continue to increase. Linebacker Nick Perry flashed rush potential before being lost for the season in midyear. This year's first-round pick, Datone Jones, will be given an opportunity to be the defensive line's premier pass rusher.
"I think he'll grow into the position," Defensive Line Coach Mike Trgovac said of Jones. "He adds some athleticism. There are some guys fighting for the position of best pass rusher.
"There's going to be great competition. We have a group that can do a lot of real good things. Youth brings a lot of energy. There's a lot of energy out there."
Head Coach Mike McCarthy offered a positive report on Perry's recovery from wrist surgery that ended his rookie season prematurely.
"I'm excited about the way Nick Perry has come back from his checkup," McCarthy said.
What's most exciting about the Packers defense is the youth movement it's in and the play time last year's rookies received in 2011. It's a young defense but it's not an inexperienced defense.
"Those guys played a lot of football last year. We improved as a defense when those guys were in there," McCarthy said.
"We won't use youth as an excuse. These guys had plenty of snaps. We have to make sure we put these guys into position and then hold them accountable," Safeties Coach Darren Perry said.
McCarthy said the depth at inside linebacker is the best he's seen in his time at Green Bay, and Inside Linebackers Coach Winston Moss stayed on the competition theme, which is clearly the emphasis for this year's training camp.
"There's a mindset that you need to stay on that field because if you come off that field, you might not have a job waiting for you when you come back," Moss said.
"Players make the biggest improvement from year one to year two," Capers said. "They were just getting started last year and a lot of them have a lot of plays under their belt."
The Packers are counting on experienced youth to take them to the next level of performance on defense.