New Defensive Coordinator Bates Brings Aggressive Approach

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"Get off the spot!" "Get off the spot!"

No matter where you stood on Ray Nitschke Field, defensive coordinator Jim Bates' voice could be heard urging his linebackers to explode off the ball during organized team activities. The defensive coordinator would follow these commands by crouching down in a two-point stance, instructing his players the proper way to bend their knees.

"He has such a passion about what he's trying to do," defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila said. "He's very hands on. Most coordinators I've had just sort of tell you what they want, but he can get down and show you exactly."

There's definitely a new sheriff in town on defense. Bates has made his presence known with a demanding style, trademarked by his active coaching technique, attention to detail and booming voice.

"That's the way I coach," Bates said. "I'm going to be after them and pat them on the back when they make plays and get after them when they don't."

He not only brings a high intensity to each practice but also has installed a new, attacking defense.

"There's a different attitude," linebacker Paris Lenon said. "It's a little more aggressive. It allows you to play fast."

And that's a good thing. The Packers know they must improve on last year's 25th-ranked defense if they want to repeat as NFC North champions in a division that features playmakers like the Vikings' Daunte Culpepper, the Lions' Roy Williams and the Bears' Muhsin Muhammad.

Bates has the credentials to upgrade the unit's performance. He served as the Dolphins' coordinator the last five years, and the defense never ranked below 10th in the league during that time. From 2000 to 2004, only four teams allowed less yardage.

Overlooked in Miami's disappointing 4-12 season last year was the fact that Bates led them to a respectable 3-4 record. He assumed interim head coaching duties after Dave Wannstedt resigned in Week 10.

Bates even led the Dolphins to a 29-28 win over the Super Bowl champion Patriots in Week 16, perhaps capitalizing on his familiarity with Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. He served under Belichick with the Browns as linebackers coach in 1991, defensive ends coach from 1992 to 1993 and secondary coach in 1995.

The system Bates uses in Green Bay focuses on speedy linebackers.

"It's probably the hardest position to play within the scheme," he said.

In that aggressive scheme, big-bodied defensive tackles like Grady Jackson primarily occupy blockers, leaving athletic linebackers free to roam from sideline-to-sideline.

"It's designed for linebackers to run, to be able to flow and make plays," undrafted rookie linebacker Zac Woodfin said.

Bates wants the linebackers to make quick pre-snap reads, determining what the offensive players will be doing based on their formation. They will cover receivers closely, often using their bodies to impede the opponent's progress.

"It's asking for us to be a lot tighter in coverage -- even in zone coverage," Lenon said.

The new coach employs that same attacking style in the secondary. The defensive backs will primarily play man-to-man and shove the receivers with their hands, position their body to force them one way, or do anything else to bump the wide receivers off their route.

"The emphasis is on contact at the line," said Patrick Dendy, an undrafted rookie cornerback who impressed during training camp.

The Packers also hope to improve their pass defense, which ranked 25th in 2004, by getting more pressure on the quarterback. In Bates' defense, the defensive ends will line up wide and at an angle against offensive lineman instead of lining up directly over a tight end or offensive tackle.

"We have a little more freedom," said defensive end Aaron Kampman, who had 4.5 sacks last year. "Sometimes you have better leverage taking on a block. You can play a little faster because you don't have guys right on top of you right away."

Gbaja-Biamila said this scheme has containment responsibilities on the edge but involves fewer restrictions than last year's defense. He likes lining up at an angle toward the offensive line, something that will help the defensive ends against both the run and the pass.

"It will allow me to be all over the field," he said. "I can chase a play from the backside or tail off on the backside and make a play down the field."

Bates said he has already installed 85 percent of the plays, and despite the changes implemented in this defense, the players said the system is not difficult to understand.

"It's more complicated from the standpoint that it's totally new," Kampman said. "I don't think it's more complicated than anything we've ran before."

Lenon knew a new coordinator would install a new defense. So when he heard of Bates' hiring, he contacted friends around the league. All spoke highly of their former coach and mentioned his zeal for the game.

"I talked to people and heard the Dolphins' players really like him," he said. "I was expecting energy but not somebody to run around like he does."

That high-energy coaching style has left Bates open to imitation.

"I'm still studying him," Gbaja-Biamila said. "I've just noticed he has a unique posture and way of doing things. It's more out of admiration."

Gbaja-Biamila expects to have his impression honed by training camp - just about when the defense should have mastered the new scheme.

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