GREEN BAY—A fresh-faced Packers defense was punctuated by an old foe playing a new position in Thursday's OTAs practice at Ray Nitschke Field.
"He moves like a young man," Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said of Julius Peppers, who signed with the Packers in free agency in March following four years with the Bears. "He takes great care of himself. He looks awesome in No. 56. We had trouble finding a shirt to fit him, but we worked that out."
"I feel like I add whatever they want me to," Peppers said following practice. "I feel very comfortable. Great group of guys. The whole NFL is a family."
Peppers lined up at the left and right outside linebacker positions on Thursday. A defensive end in the previous 12 years in his career, Peppers worked solely with the linebackers on Thursday and appears headed for a featured and versatile role in Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers' 3-4 defense.
Ironically, McCarthy sent a somewhat different message to reporters on Thursday.
"We wanted to operate at a lower volume of scheme," McCarthy said of scheme evaluation his staff did following last season. "We went after scheme evaluation with the focus of doing less. We've learned the harsh lesson (in recent years) about playing players that weren't ready in terms of scheme."
Importance should not be attached to the role in which Peppers was used in Thursday's practice, since neither starting outside linebacker, Clay Matthews nor Nick Perry, practiced. Matthews continues his recovery from a hand injury that required two surgical procedures.
"I should be ready for the start of the season. There's your timetable," Matthews said to a reporter. "We have to be smart. The first time I came back too soon. I'm currently going through the process of rehab and physical therapy. We have to be smart right now. I don't see any reason not to be ready for training camp, but that's the player talking in me."
How might the Packers defense line up when Matthews, Perry and Peppers are on the field together? The answer to that question remains for another day.
What we know from Thursday's practice is Micah Hyde, who was an important contributor as a rookie cornerback last season, is getting a chance to show he can play safety. It would seem to be the position of opportunity in the Packers defensive backfield.
"We're giving him a chance to be on the field for all three downs," McCarthy said of Hyde, who joined Morgan Burnett at safety in the No. 1 unit. First-round draft pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix worked with the No. 2 group.
"I can't wait for the opportunity. I want to be on the field and making as many plays as possible," Hyde said. "That's what these OTAs are for, getting comfortable about playing the position."
McCarthy pronounced his team ahead of last year's pace, as it begins what the coach said is the third phase of the team's offseason program.
"The football team is off to a good, solid start. We're a little ahead of where we've been," he said. "We're all doing a better job of understanding the CBA tempo. You don't see players on the ground as much."
Practice was open to the public and fans cheered nearly every catch. One of those catches belonged to undrafted tight end Colt Lyerla, who got the biggest cheer of the day. Lyerla was signed by the Packers following a troubled career at Oregon.
Thursday, the Green Bay Packers held Organized Team Activities on Ray Nitschke Field, practicing in front of fans. Photos by Matt Becker, Packers.com.
"A lot of conversation," McCarthy said of the decision to sign Lyerla. "I'm excited about having Colt here. Everybody is excited about helping a young man that's been through what he's been through. We're excited to impact this young man's life."
"I really don't have any medical updates. He was in town. I did not personally see him. My understanding is he's in great shape and doing everything he can."
Bryan Bulaga returned to practice after missing all of last season due to a knee injury. He lined up at right tackle and David Bakhtiari, the rookie that replaced Bulaga at left tackle last season, remained on the left side. JC Tretter, a fourth-round draft pick, was at center with the No. 1 offensive line.
"I think he's been here every single day since the season ended. I've been impressed with what I've seen," McCarthy said of Tretter. Related coverage: