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Notebook: Steelers Connections Abound On Defensive Staff

Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh will be meaningful enough for Green Bay with the playoff implications that it brings, but for three members of the Packers’ defensive coaching staff, it might be a little more special because of the time they spent with the Steelers. - More Mike McCarthy Press Conference Transcript - Dec. 18


Sunday's game in Pittsburgh will be meaningful enough for Green Bay with the playoff implications that it brings, but for three members of the Packers' defensive coaching staff, it might be a little more special because of the time they spent with the Steelers.

Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers, outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene and secondary-safeties coach Darren Perry all spent time with the Steelers in the 1990s, with Capers holding the same title he does now and Greene and Perry having played the position they now tutor in Green Bay.

For Capers, his tenure in Pittsburgh was his first chance to run an NFL defense as he served as the Steelers defensive coordinator for three seasons (1992-94). Taking over a unit that ranked No. 22 in the league in 1991, the defense rose to a No. 13 ranking in Capers' first season before shooting all the way up to No. 3 in '93 and No. 2 in 1994. The team went to the playoffs in each of his three seasons, and no defense in the league allowed fewer touchdowns over that three-year period.

Capers won the Pro Football Weekly/PFW Assistant Coach of the Year Award in '94, and his success with the Steelers helped him get hired as the first head coach of the expansion Carolina Panthers in 1995.

"It's always fun to go back to a place you have been," said Capers, who also grew up about 80 miles from Pittsburgh in Buffalo, Ohio. "I had three great years there, got my first head-coaching job from there. We had very good defensive football players; two of them are on this staff right now. They were a lot of fun to work with because you knew every week we were going to go out and probably not give up a lot of points.

"And the city of Pittsburgh had a great tradition, not only as the Steelers, but a great defensive tradition from 'The Steel Curtain' in the '70s. The fans really loved and appreciated good defense, so I've got an awful lot of good memories from there."

One of those players was Greene, who played outside linebacker for the Steelers for three seasons (1993-95), the first two under Capers. He went to the Pro Bowl and was named first-team All-Pro in 1994 when he posted an NFL-leading 14 sacks, and earned Pro Bowl honors again the next season when the Steelers advanced to Super Bowl XXX.

After his playing career ended in 1999, Greene worked as a summer NFL coaching intern with five different clubs, his most recent one coming in 2008 with the Steelers.

"I had a chance to work under Keith Butler, the linebackers coach, and had a chance to work with their outside rushers there, (LaMarr) Woodley and (James) Harrison," Greene said. "They're good, good quality kids and bona-fide true pros. The success they've been having, I'm tickled to death for them because they are good kids and true pros."

Like Capers, Perry also came to Pittsburgh in 1992, joining the team as an eighth-round draft choice out of Penn State. He became an immediate starter under Capers at free safety and played seven seasons in Pittsburgh (1992-98), including the '95 season that saw the Steelers win the AFC Championship.

Perry also coached four seasons (2003-06) with the Steelers, re-joining the team in '03 as assistant defensive backs coach before being promoted to defensive backs coach the next season.

"There's a special feeling," Perry said. "You develop some relationships with some guys over there, players and coaches and front office people. That's where it all started, so obviously you've got some fond memories and you hold some people in high regard over there.

"It will be weird. But at the same time you're looking forward to going out there and competing, and beating them. Because they are the world champs, so you know it's going to be a dog fight. They have their backs up against the wall, so they'll come out fighting, and we'll get their best. This will be a good measuring stick for us in terms of where we are."

Pickett optimistic

Starting nose tackle Ryan Pickett, who was sidelined with a hamstring injury last Sunday at Chicago, practiced on a limited basis Friday for the second straight day.

Last week Pickett tested the injury on the morning of the game before it was determined that he would be inactive against the Bears. Head Coach Mike McCarthy said that test for Pickett was on Friday, and that how he felt on Saturday would be the determining factor for his status for Sunday.

"I think I'm going to be out there," Pickett said. "It's still up to Coach McCarthy and the doctors. They are going to listen to what I say, but they're going to make the decision. I'm pulling to play."

{sportsad300}Pickett has been part of a run defense that is ranked No. 2 in the league (85.0 yards per game), just behind Sunday's opponent, the Steelers (84.9 per game). The Packers are the only team in the league to hold opponents under 90 net rushing yards in 10 games this season, just one shy of tying Green Bay's franchise record of 11 games in the Super Bowl XXXI-winning season of 1996.

"If you don't have a big presence inside like Ryan gives us; you see people try to run a 3-4 defense, and if they've got a little guy inside there, they have a hard time stopping the run," Capers said. "I really believe that's been one of the real strengths of this team, especially over the last nine games. It's kind of where everything starts with us and he's been a big factor in that. You've got to be an unselfish guy. I think he has played his role, for what we ask him to do, very well."

Pickett, who got some work during the team (11-on-11) portion of Friday's practice, said he also did some contact drills and felt fine. If he is able to play on Sunday, his in-game routine will have to be altered slightly because of the injury.

"I don't have any concern," Pickett said. "If you have a hamstring (injury), it's always work. You've got to work and you've got to keep it warm. You have to stay active. I can't just go on the sidelines and just sit down on the bench like I normally do and just drink all of the Gatorade. I have to stay active and ride the bike."

Injury/participation update

Linebacker Jeremy Thompson (neck) is out for Sunday for the third straight game. Cornerback Brandon Underwood (hip) is doubtful.

Defensive end Johnny Jolly (knee), who was limited the last two days, participated fully on Friday and is probable for Sunday.

Linebacker Nick Barnett (knee) and cornerback Charles Woodson (shoulder) are also probable.

For Pittsburgh, guard Chris Kemoeatu (wrist), safety Troy Polamalu (knee) and wide receiver Limas Sweed (illness) are out for Sunday.

Center Justin Hartwig (knee), defensive end Brett Keisel (neck) and wide receiver Hines Ward (hamstring) are probable.

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