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Training Camp Report: First Look For 3-4 Defense Comes Saturday Night

Every year teams play the balancing act of utilizing the preseason games to get ready for the regular season while also not showing too much of their scheme to the opponents they will face during the season. - More Mike McCarthy Press Conference Transcript - Aug. 13 Packers Sign LB Sulak, Place Humphrey On I.R.

Every year teams play the balancing act of utilizing the preseason games to get ready for the regular season while also not showing too much of their scheme to the opponents they will face during the season.

For the Packers, that debate is magnified for the preseason opener vs. Cleveland as they take the field Saturday for the first time with the 3-4 defense and the various sub and blitz packages it includes under new coordinator Dom Capers.

"That's really a question that will be answered after we play the game," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said when asked how much of the Packers' defensive package would be utilized Saturday. "As far as percentages, I'd be BS'ing you if I told you 30 percent. We don't sit around and talk about how much we want to show.

"Cleveland is kind of a hard team to anticipate because they have a new coaching staff, so there is definitely some projection on what would you really like to do against them. We also play them during the regular season."

The Packers will play two of their four preseason opponents during the regular season, traveling to Cleveland in Week 7 (Oct. 25) and Arizona in the season finale (Jan. 3). It is the first time since 2004 (Jacksonville and Tennessee) that two of Green Bay's preseason opponents are also regular-season opponents.

McCarthy said Thursday night that some of the Packers' starters would play approximately 10-12 plays Saturday night, and he added that the team will play several combinations of players throughout the first quarter.

Another factor that will contribute to how much of their defensive scheme is on display Saturday will be injuries, with the front seven most affected to this point in training camp. McCarthy said Thursday night that outside linebackers Clay Matthews (hamstring) and Jeremy Thompson (stinger) were doubtful for the game, and defensive end Justin Harrell (back) likely falls into that same category.

Add in linebackers Nick Barnett (knee) and Brad Jones (back), who are both on the physically unable to perform list, as well as rookie defensive end B.J. Raji, who had not signed with the team as of Thursday night, and the Packers defense hardly has their full complement of players for Saturday's game.

"On my schedule to the coaches, the target that we have is 33 percent if you are looking for a number, but that is adjusted to the health of your football team," McCarthy said. "We've got to practice (Thursday night) and we've got to practice (Friday), so those things get adjusted.

"But as far as the way the coaches have planned, 33 to 40 percent of your normal volume for the game plan is what you are looking to carry in. That's probably not exact. Things could take us in a different direction."

For the players that have spent hundreds of hours on the field and in the classroom this offseason learning Capers' scheme, they understand the need to be cautious with how much of the 3-4 is unveiled in the preseason, but they're also anxious to show off what the defense is capable of.

"I understand where that comes from, but we're football players," safety Nick Collins said. "We want to win. You try not to show too much, but you're a football player. You're going to show something. Hopefully we can keep it very low and not show too much yet still be effective and dominate when we are out on the field. Let the world know that we're here.

"I think we're underdogs right now, so the world doesn't know what we're going to do, how we're going to make the transition from the 4-3 to the 3-4. We're just going to go out there and play ball. A lot of people think they know what the 3-4 is all about, but they really don't because everybody runs the 3-4 different, and Capers runs his real different than the others."

Getting close

Amid media reports Thursday night that Raji had come to contract terms with the team, McCarthy said after the evening practice that the team was "close" to an agreement.

McCarthy said it was too early to speculate on how quickly Raji would be able to play and contribute once a deal is completed.

"I need to see him and I need to see him workout," McCarthy said. "I need to see what kind of shape he is in. Obviously it will be an adjusted plan. Any time you bring a player in this late you have to be real smart because he's at a whole different level as far as conditioning and football shape than his teammates.

"That's something we're going to have to evaluate once we get more information based on what kind of shape he is in."

Raji, who was selected with the No. 9 overall pick, worked as the No. 1 left defensive end throughout the offseason and is also expected to see time at nose tackle.

A little help

The Packers added some much-needed depth to their linebacking corps with the signing of free-agent linebacker Stryker Sulak on Thursday morning.

With the number of injuries the Packers currently have at the position, Sulak saw plenty of time at outside linebacker in both practices on Thursday.

Stryker, who was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the sixth round of the 2009 NFL Draft, was released by Oakland before signing a contract.

{sportsad300}"I never found out and my agent never found out (what happened in Oakland)," Sulak said. "We quit asking questions the day after because we had to look forward and look for a new team and getting into a new system as soon as I could."

The 6-foot-4, 251-pound Stryker played defensive end at the University of Missouri, posting 55 tackles, including 15½ for loss and 10½ sacks as a senior. He also led the NCAA with six forced fumbles.

Although Sulak never played linebacker in college, he said he did stand up in certain packages that the Tigers used. Sulak said Thursday he was not sure how much he would play in Saturday's preseason opener.

"There is no way I could play defensive end in the 3-4," Sulak said. "I'm just too small. I think definitely outside linebacker is a good fit for me here.

"I've got to just get back into football shape and start learning the playbook. That's the biggest thing right now."

Another look at Lambeau

Though he grew up about 100 miles from Green Bay, when rookie wide receiver Kole Heckendorf runs out of the tunnel Saturday night, it will be just the second time in his life that he has attended a game at Lambeau Field.

Heckendorf, who signed with the Packers as a non-drafted free agent in May out of North Dakota State, is from Mosinee, Wis. Oddly enough, the first game he went to was the most recent Green Bay game, the season finale last December vs. Detroit.

Even though Saturday's game will surely be a memorable night for Heckendorf, he said he isn't concerned about being overly excited or nervous.

"Everyone asks me that and I am a pretty calm guy," Heckendorf said. "I don't get too excited and I just try to stay even keeled and keep doing what I have been doing for a while now.

"I've got to be in the right spot and catch the ball. I'm just going to go out there and give it all I got and see what happens."

Heckendorf had one of the catches of the night during a two-minute period Thursday evening. He made a leaping grab on a pass from quarterback Brian Brohm with linebacker Aaron Kampman in tight coverage, but Heckendorf was pulled down at the 2 as time expired and no timeouts left.

Injury/participation update

Returning to practice for the first time since injuring his ankle on Aug. 2 was defensive end Johnny Jolly, who took part in both individual and team work on Thursday night.

"I'm hopeful Johnny can go (Saturday)," McCarthy said. "I watched Johnny all through his individual and I thought he looked very good.

"We'll see how he responds at practice. Tomorrow morning will be a big indicator, and if Johnny does go, we'll probably be smart with him and he'll probably be in that first group of 10-12 plays."

Running back DeShawn Wynn (knee) returned to practice in the morning for the first time this week. Wide receiver Ruvell Martin (groin) joined practice late in the morning session and participated fully at night, and wide receiver Patrick Williams (hamstring) also returned to practice on Thursday night.

Several healthy veterans were given the morning off but returned for the night practice. They were Kampman, cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Al Harris, nose tackle Ryan Pickett, wide receiver Donald Driver and tight end Donald Lee.

One-a-day participants -- safety Atari Bigby, center Scott Wells, tackle Chad Clifton and defensive end Cullen Jenkins -- stayed on their schedule, sitting out the morning and practicing at night.

Continuing to sit out for both practices were cornerback Pat Lee (back), linebackers Matthews (hamstring), Thompson (stinger), Barnett (knee/PUP) and Jones (back/PUP), defensive end Justin Harrell (back) and Raji (unsigned).

Tight end Tory Humphrey was placed on injured reserve Thursday morning with a broken forearm.

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