New Defense Gets Addressed On Day 1

The conventional wisdom on the 3-4 defense says that the two positions most critical to making the scheme work are the nose tackle and the outside linebackers. - More Packers 2009 Draft Page


The conventional wisdom on the 3-4 defense says that the two positions most critical to making the scheme work are the nose tackle and the outside linebackers.

So the Green Bay Packers appear to have aided the transition to their new defense as much as they possibly could by making additions in those precise spots on Day 1 of the 2009 NFL Draft.

By selecting Boston College nose tackle B.J. Raji with the No. 9 pick and then trading up to use another first-round pick on USC outside linebacker Clay Matthews, the Packers hope they've found two highly talented prospects that could potentially help the team right away in 2009 while also developing into long-term starters for the future.

"Those are two very large pieces," said outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene, who played in defensive coordinator Dom Capers' 3-4 scheme in both Pittsburgh and Carolina during his playing career. "The outside backers are the fuel that make the engine go, so to speak, and that cog in the middle is huge."

General Manager Ted Thompson said it wasn't necessarily the plan to draft players at those positions when the day started on Saturday, nor did he have designs on giving the Packers two first-round picks for the first time since 1993 (LB Wayne Simmons and S George Teague).

But when Raji was available at No. 9 and Matthews lasted until late in the first round, prompting Thompson and his staff to explore trade options to move up, some significant questions about the personnel available to transition to the 3-4 were answered.

Raji will likely work into a rotation with veteran Ryan Pickett at the nose tackle spot, giving Capers the flexibility to go to whichever anchor he wants in the middle of the line depending on the game situation. The nose tackle in the 3-4 must be strong enough to command a double-team, freeing up the inside linebackers behind him to attack the ball.

Meanwhile Matthews will be immediately thrown into the mix as a potential starter at the outside linebacker spot opposite Aaron Kampman, who is making the transition to there from defensive end. There is a plethora of other candidates as well in Brady Poppinga, Brandon Chillar, Jeremy Thompson, Jason Hunter and perhaps Desmond Bishop, and it certainly won't hurt to build as much depth as possible for those critical pass-rushing spots, which are the real playmakers when the scheme is at its best.

"The 3-4 defense relies on these two outside guys to make things happen," Greene said.

Interestingly, Capers spoke after the selection of Raji about the value of creating competition at his spot and the need for depth to keep an effective presence in that critical nose tackle role. But his words were equally appropriate to what the Packers now have at outside linebacker as well.

"The most exhausting skill is rushing the passer, so you always have to have in mind how to rotate guys to keep them fresh," Capers said. "You don't want to wear those guys down up front.

"I know we just got a lot better in terms of competition at the position, and that will raise the level of everybody at that position."

Addressing these two areas so highly in the draft didn't come without a cost, though. To get Matthews at No. 26 in the first round, Thompson traded his second-round pick and both of his third-round picks to New England (while getting a fifth-rounder also in return), so the Packers head into Sunday without a selection until the fourth round, No. 109 overall.

{sportsad300}That leaves the Packers sitting out of Sunday's opening round, picks that are often coveted because they're the first ones after teams have re-set their draft boards following the overnight layoff.

But Thompson thought enough of Matthews to make that sacrifice, leaving the Packers with six picks on Sunday from the fourth through seventh rounds.

If there are any other target areas, one is likely offensive tackle, where the Packers would like some prospects to look at either as a potential immediate starter at right tackle, should Mark Tauscher not be re-signed, or as a future replacement for left tackle Chad Clifton, who is entering his 10th season.

Breno Giacomini, a fifth-round pick in 2008, should be in the mix this year for Tauscher's spot, but the rest of the depth at tackle is somewhat unknown right now.

"We've been able to get players later on, so that's what we're going to focus on, and try to finish this thing out," Thompson said. "But we feel like we had an opportunity to draft two very good players (in the first round) that are going to add to our group, and we felt like it was worth it.

"I didn't anticipate doing all that we did today. That's just the way the thing worked."

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