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Poppinga Primed To Contribute


With the Packers transitioning to a 3-4 scheme under new defensive coordinator Dom Capers, there were questions this offseason about where veteran linebacker Brady Poppinga would fit in the new system, especially after the team drafted Clay Matthews in the first round.

But Poppinga wasn't one of those people doubting his position with the team, and midway through the preseason, he is proving that he will be a factor on the defense again in 2009.

Throughout OTAs and mini-camp, second-year linebacker Jeremy Thompson worked at the starting right outside linebacker position with Matthews backing him up. Poppinga ran with the second unit at the left outside spot behind starter Aaron Kampman.

But early on in training camp, both Thompson and Matthews sustained injuries, with Matthews aggravating a hamstring injury originally sustained during OTAs and Thompson battling a shoulder stinger. Neither player has seen action in the preseason yet and both have missed significant practice time, so Poppinga has stepped in as the starter on the right side, and he has made the most of his opportunity.

"I can't say enough about him from a preparation standpoint," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "He's taken every snap in training camp, hasn't missed a practice, and it shows up on the field. He's very comfortable in the new scheme. He's done an excellent job particularly in the run defense of taking two defenders time and time again.

"He's been around the ball a lot, part of the takeaway production that we've had on defense. I think Brady is having a heck of a camp."

Poppinga showed his nose for the ball in last Saturday's game with Buffalo. On the first possession of the game, he was down the field as Trent Edwards' pass intended for Lee Evans was deflected by safety Nick Collins and into the arms of Poppinga for the interception.

Poppinga was in on another takeaway early in the second quarter, this time scooping up a fumble by running back Fred Jackson that was forced by defensive end Cullen Jenkins.

"He's going to make some things happen and he's already made some things happen," outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene said. "Good things happen to football players who are around the ball constantly.

"Brady had a great drop, he was around the ball, tipped, interception. He had another good drop right where he needed to be on that screen. He comes up, closes the gap, is around the ball and gets a fumble recovery."

Greene has talked about the wide array of responsibilities that are required of outside linebackers in Capers' scheme, from rushing the passer to playing the run to dropping back into coverage.

"To be an outside backer in this 3-4, you have to be a physical kid, and that's what he is," said Greene, who played outside linebacker for Capers in Pittsburgh and Carolina. "He's a smart kid. He fits exactly into the scheme where he needs to fit. He's dropping exactly where he needs to drop. He very rarely has a mental error. He is a good all-around backer in this 3-4.

"One play these guys could be carrying someone vertical in the scheme, a wide receiver. The next play they are rushing against a 335-pound offensive tackle. Think about the range of skills involved in covering that."

Poppinga made his mark in his first four seasons with the Packers as a physical player who provided good support against the run, and also had plenty of coverage responsibilities. He said the biggest adjustment for him in the 3-4 has been getting back up on the line to rush the passer, something he hadn't done much of since his college career at Brigham Young.

If there were questions about Poppinga's ability to show some finesse as a pass rusher, Greene said that isn't a concern in the Packers' scheme.

"The last thing we want to do as an outside pass rusher is to run up the field and run around the quarterback," Greene said. "That's not what Coach Dom wants. He wants the pass rush to collapse it from the outside in, not going up vertical of the quarterback. So we don't need finesse pass rushers here. We need violent, physical pass rushers. Does Brady fit the bill? Absolutely."

Poppinga is no stranger to having to fight for his job, having been through a similar scenario last season when the team brought in Brandon Chillar as an unrestricted free agent from St. Louis to compete with him for the starting strong-side linebacker spot. Poppinga held onto his spot, playing all 16 games with 12 starts in '08.

"The thing was when I signed my contract extension (July 2008) here it was very clear to me that there were no guarantees of a starting spot, and I was like, 'That's fine,'" Poppinga said. "I don't need any guarantees. I don't mind competing year in and year out.

"I understand the component of competition to a team and how important and vital it is. I signed up for it, man. I think people from the outside didn't understand that angle of it, but that's just how this team is built. This team is built on competition."

And that continued this offseason with the selection of Matthews in the first round, a pick the team acquired by trading a second-round choice and two third-round selections in order to get back into the first round.

{sportsad300}While a lot of players would obviously perceive a move like that as a threat to their place on the roster, that wasn't the case for Poppinga. He applauded the move immediately as one that could help the team win, plain and simple.

"That guy fits my kind of mold and he is the kind of teammate I would choose," Poppinga said. "Ask A.J. (Hawk). When I was with A.J. last year in the room, we were watching a USC game. It was the Oregon State game and it looked like the whole USC team had shut down because they were getting blown out. Clay was flying around out there, and I looked at A.J. and said, 'We've got to get guys like this on our team,' and I mean it.

"After they drafted him, it was no change. I love it. This is what we need to have to win a championship because that's really what matters. In this whole scheme of things, yeah, you can be a starter or a Pro Bowler, but what really matters is you win a championship. That's what we're here for. Everybody talks about it, but who really does it? I'm going to be the guy that does it."

With Thompson back on the practice field this week and Matthews targeting the final preseason game for his return, Poppinga's exact role on defense has yet to be defined. What is known is that all of the snaps he has taken in training camp and the preseason games will only benefit Poppinga and the team, and it is already showing.

"I just take every rep possible and take it as a gift and an opportunity," Poppinga said. "To have as many reps as I have had has been a really big benefit for me because it has been a transition. To have extra reps, even more than if I wasn't a starter, has been great and has really helped in this process.

"I'd say by far I am playing my best football, but it's just the beginning. This is just a scratch on the surface, and I think you can say that for the collective defense. This is a process and we're at the very beginning stages of this process. It's only going to get better, as long as we choose to continue to get better and make the commitment to do so."

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