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Training Camp Report: Run Defense Holding Strong

For all the discussion about injuries preventing the Packers from getting their No. 1 defensive unit on the field together for a game this preseason, one element on that side of the ball that has slid under the radar a bit has been the team’s run defense.


Yes, there was an 11-yard touchdown run by Seattle's Leon Washington and the 49-yard run by Indianapolis' Joseph Addai on the first play from scrimmage last Thursday. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers said there were fundamental technique breakdowns on those plays that, admittedly, were upsetting to see.

But by and large the run defense has performed well, and it appears the Packers are poised to build on an impressive showing in 2009 against the run.

"I feel pretty good about our run defense," Capers said. "There's those plays you mentioned, you can't negate those, but after that first run (by the Colts) they ran it 19 times for 32 yards the other night. We'll take that every day.

"I would have to say of what we've done, that's one of the better things we've done in the preseason."

The Packers led the league in run defense a year ago for the first time in franchise history, and they set a team record by allowing just 83.3 rushing yards per game. Thus far, the defense appears to be picking up where it left off in terms of frustrating teams that are trying to establish anything on the ground.

With the "starting" defense on the field – and that's been a bit of a misnomer the past month with outside linebacker Clay Matthews missing all three preseason games thus far, fellow outside linebacker Brad Jones sitting out two of three, and inside linebackers Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk and defensive end Cullen Jenkins missing one game apiece – opponents have posted a grand total of 103 rushing yards on 23 carries.

Minus the Addai run the numbers are 22 carries for 54 yards, or just 2.45 per rush, and a total of eight carries in the Seattle and Indy games went for 1, zero or minus-1 yards.

The long run is a significant blemish, to be sure, but most important to Capers was how the defense responded after that opening play last week. On the Colts' next eight running plays, they gained 10 yards, including a stop for zero on an end-around to a receiver that was a vast improvement on the 17-yard gain Seattle posted against the No. 2 defense on a similar gimmick play.

"We talk about how there's going to be adversity you face in every game, and the key is how you handle those things," Capers said. "You can't panic, you can't lose your poise. You just have to line up the next play and put it out of your mind and not let a bad play affect you in a negative way."

The quick in-game response is an improvement over the early stages last year, when the Packers were first learning Capers' 3-4 scheme, which has different run responsibilities for the front seven than a 4-3. The Packers had their struggles in the first month of the 2009 regular season, when Cincinnati's Cedric Benson and St. Louis' Steven Jackson had rather productive games, and it wasn't until after it got through those game-long rough patches that the run defense started to shape up.

"A lot of that last year, the reason we started off so slow, we were learning a whole new defense, coming from one scheme to another scheme, and everybody not knowing exactly their fits, knowing their responsibilities, and knowing the weaknesses toward the responsibilities," Barnett said. "I think guys tried to get out of themselves and kind of run around and make extra plays and leaving their gaps open. Once we figured that out and we started to play what we were supposed to play, then our run defense started to come along."

With the early results, and the immediate adjustment after the first play against Indy, the Packers appear to be ahead of where they were last year. Getting all those key members of the front seven back on the field full time would certainly help, but the attitude toward the run defense has been positive all through camp.

"I think our guys believe in it," Capers said. "I think probably the confidence level in the run defense is much better now than what it was at this time last year. We really hadn't proven we could go out and play the run real well, and that showed up early in the season.

"Run defense is kind of like putting a glove on. Everything has to fit. Everybody's got a gap, and guys have to have confidence in the people they're playing around that they're going to be where they're supposed to be so I can play aggressively and go where I need to be."

Head Coach Mike McCarthy said on Tuesday that the No. 1 offense would play the first series of Thursday night's game in Kansas City. The mindset would be the same with the defense, though there may be some younger players currently on the defense's first unit due to injuries who may play longer than that.

For the offense, which has produced seven touchdowns in a little more than four quarters of play in the preseason, another score would cap off a great month of work. But in the big picture, that's not the primary objective.

"Honestly, stay healthy," said quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has a league-leading 141.2 passer rating through three preseason games. "That's the most important thing. I think we've proven a lot this preseason. We've moved the ball well, effectively, and done good things in the passing game. I think the biggest goal is to be 100 percent at the end of that game."

More media hype
It's not as though the Packers need more hype and expectations piled onto their 2010 season, but Sports Illustrated has picked Green Bay to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl and Rodgers to win the league's MVP award in its annual football preview issue.

For more on the SI story and a glimpse of Rodgers on one of the magazine's regional covers, check out the blog.

Punter absent
Punter Chris Bryan was absent from Tuesday's practice for what McCarthy termed a "positive" personal family situation. Bryan's wife has been expecting.

McCarthy didn't know whether Bryan would be available for the game against Kansas City, however. Bryan has been competing with Tim Masthay for the team's punting job all through training camp, and a decision on the team's punter will be made on Saturday.

Injury/participation update
Aside from Bryan, sitting out practice on Tuesday were safety Will Blackmon (knee), cornerback Brandon Underwood (shoulder), linebacker Desmond Bishop (hamstring), tackle Chad Clifton (knee), tackle/guard Allen Barbre (back), Jenkins (calf) and Matthews (hamstring).

In addition, the three players who began training camp on PUP – safety Atari Bigby (ankle), cornerback Al Harris (knee) and running back James Starks (hamstring) – were transferred to reserve/PUP, meaning they will miss at least the first six weeks of the regular season. The Packers also placed running back Quinn Porter (knee) on injured reserve, ending his season.

Those four moves trimmed the active roster to 75 players. The roster must be reduced to 53 by 5 p.m. Saturday.

Additional coverage – Aug. 31

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