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Packers Defense: New Coaching Faces, Same System


Think of the Packers' defense like the construction of a house.

In 2005 defensive coordinator Jim Bates laid a solid foundation, and the Packers finished seventh in the NFL in total defense and first in pass defense.

"We'll build from there," said new defensive coordinator Bob Sanders during a Monday luncheon in Lambeau Field Atrium to introduce the team's coaching staff to the Wisconsin media. "It's going to be very, very similar to what we've done."

Sanders, who coached under Bates in 1990 and from 2001-2005, served as Packers defensive ends coach last season. Like last year his system will emphasize large defensive tackles occupying blockers and physical bump-and-run coverage in the secondary to impede the progress of receivers.

Sanders becomes the fourth different defensive coordinator in as many years, but the Packers look forward to the continuity Sanders brings.

"There is a comfort level among them," Sanders said. "There's an excitement amongst the guys I've talked to."

Another similarity to last year's unit will be the focus on fast linebackers flowing to the ball.

"The linebackers are the quarterback of the defense," linebackers coach Winston Moss said.

The defensive quarterbacks will be speedy but not necessarily small.

"You have to be able to run and hit guys," Moss said. "You would love to have a 6'4", 250 (Brian) Urlacher type, but those don't come in the box every day."

Nick Barnett will continue to serve as the anchor of the linebacking corps. The middle linebacker set a Packers single-season record with 194 tackles in 2005.

Moss has not gone through the game tape from last year but knows Barnett from when he scouted the former Oregon State linebacker for the 2003 NFL draft. The New Orleans Saints linebackers coach from 2001-2005 became more enamored with Barnett after the Packers and Saints played in Week 5. Barnett had eight tackles and a 95-yard interception for a touchdown in that game.

"He's shown the ability to make a play," Moss said. "He's been productive."

Moss also will have to deal with a linebacking corps that went through several injuries last year. Outside linebackers Brady Poppinga (knee), Na'il Diggs (knees) and Robert Thomas (quadriceps) missed extensive action. Moss knows all about returning to the field following knee injuries. During his 11-years playing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Los Angeles Raiders and Seattle Seahawks, he strained his anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments and played an entire year with a knee brace.

"It's tough," Moss said. "I've experienced it. I've had to go through it. It made me a better person. It made me really want to grind and prove that I really wanted to play in this league."

The other new defensive coach, Carl Hairston, will coach the defensive line along with Robert Nunn. His exact title has not been determined. Hairston spent the last five years coaching the defensive line for the Kansas City Chiefs, but the devotion of the fans and the impressive facilities at Lambeau Field helped draw him to Green Bay.

"It's an outstanding place to work and play," Hairston said.

Hairston signed with the Packers on Sunday. He has not studied the Packers film from last year but plans to watch tape of every game meticulously. Although he will gain a greater understanding for the personnel, he praised the abilities of defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamia and defensive tackle Grady Jackson, an unrestricted free agent.

"You've got a nucleus of two good football players to build around," Hairston said.

Now that the nucleus of the defensive coaching staff has mostly been determined, Sanders will be able to concentrate on player evaluation soon. He and McCarthy are still in the process of finding a defensive quality control coach and another secondary coach. Sanders expressed satisfaction with the composition of the defensive staff.

"They're enthusiastic guys. They're guys that are very knowledgeable," Sanders said. "They're very loyal guys. I think they are guys that will get along well together. The chemistry will be good. I'm excited about this staff."

Although some of the coaching names have changed, the scheme from last year largely will remain intact. If and when the Packers bring in different players, Sanders said he will tweak the defensive scheme to make it his own.

One thing that will not change is Sanders' tireless work ethic. How did he celebrate his promotion to Packers defensive coordinator?

"I got in the truck and came to work," Sanders said.

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