Under Capers, 3-4 Is Defense's New Starting Point

The hiring of Dom Capers as the team’s new defensive coordinator will usher in a new look to the Packers’ defense. Specifically, the Packers’ base concept on defense will feature a front with three down linemen and four linebackers, or a 3-4, rather than the 4-3 look the Packers have featured during Head Coach Mike McCarthy’s first three seasons. - More Press Release - Capers Named Defensive Coordinator


Dom Capers was the Houston Texans' first head coach, for the 2002-05 seasons.

The hiring of Dom Capers as the team's new defensive coordinator will usher in a new look to the Packers' defense.

Specifically, the Packers' base concept on defense will feature a front with three down linemen and four linebackers, or a 3-4, rather than the 4-3 look the Packers have featured during Head Coach Mike McCarthy's first three seasons.

Who will fill each of those spots in the front seven remains to be seen, but after an extensive interview with Capers, McCarthy is confident the Packers have the personnel to make the change and Capers is the best guy to implement it.

"It's an impressive system that utilizes the talents of its players," McCarthy said. "That's really the bottom line. It's about utilizing your players, and this is a system that we will institute."

In Capers, McCarthy has hired a veteran NFL coach with experience as both a head coach and a defensive coordinator. Capers was the first head coach for two expansion teams, Carolina (1995-98) and Houston (2002-05), leading the Panthers to an NFC Championship meeting with Green Bay in their second season.

He also has been the defensive coordinator for three teams - Pittsburgh (1992-94), Jacksonville (1999-2000) and Miami (2006-07), running various versions of the 3-4 along the way.

As either a head coach or coordinator, Capers has directed a defense that ranked in the Top 10 in the league for a full season at least once with each team, except Houston.

At all three of his stops as a defensive coordinator, Capers has made a significant and immediate impact on that team's defense.

In Pittsburgh, the Steelers' ranking in points allowed went from tied for 22nd (344 points) before Capers' arrival in 1991 to second (225) in 1992, his first season. At Jacksonville, the Jaguars climbed from 25th in yards (347.4) and 17th in points allowed (338) to fourth (270.9 yards) and first (217 points), respectively, in his first season of 1999. And at Miami, the Dolphins went from 18th in yards allowed (317.4) in 2005 to fourth (289.1) in 2006, Capers' first running that defense.

Capers takes over a Green Bay defense that ranked 20th in the NFL in '08 in yards allowed (334.3) and 22nd in points allowed (380).

"(You look at) just the progress that defense has made in the NFL over the last 15 to 20 years," McCarthy said. "His vision of playing defense and my vision of how we're going to move forward in Green Bay I would say is a big part of why I think he's an outstanding fit for our organization."

McCarthy has no prior relationship with Capers to speak of, other than competing against his defenses over the years. In fact, it was McCarthy's experience against 3-4 defenses in general, and the difficulties he encountered with "targeting" certain defensive players and trying to limit their impact, that contributed to his decision to change schemes after releasing defensive coordinator Bob Sanders and several of his assistants earlier this month.

"I know from an offensive standpoint, when you look at it, when you play the 3-4, it creates targeting problems just from your initial game-plan meeting," McCarthy said. "It really cuts the menu of the offense probably in half of what you would normally do (against) a four-man front."

McCarthy noted that the decision to release Sanders and four defensive assistants one week after the regular season ended was difficult from a personal standpoint. He said he had tremendous respect for the work his coaches did and the sacrifices all coaches make to succeed at their jobs.

But he didn't feel the defense was progressing under the previous leadership and scheme, so he made the change and targeted a 3-4 defense as the unit's new direction.

"What it came down to was I just didn't feel we were headed in the right direction on the defensive side of the ball," McCarthy said. "It was really an evaluation of our last three years. It was a three-year process and I felt that a number of things that occurred in Year 1 showed up again in Year 3."

The biggest question the 3-4 raises in terms of personnel is how the Packers will use their current starting defensive ends, Aaron Kampman and Cullen Jenkins. Generally speaking, the two outside linebackers are the primary pass rushers in a 3-4 scheme rather than the defensive ends.

Jenkins, a hybrid defensive tackle/end at 300 pounds, probably suits the end spot in a 3-4, whereas Kampman at 265 pounds may not. But with varying fronts, stunts and personnel at a coordinator's disposal, there's no need to necessarily lock a Pro Bowl talent like Kampman down into one spot.

"He's an outside rusher," McCarthy said. "Who's to say we're going to play him at the defensive end position? I think this is an excellent defense for Aaron, particularly in the base defense, and we'll also utilize Aaron more in the sub-packages."

McCarthy said he envisions Ryan Pickett as the primary nose tackle in the middle of the three-man line, but he did not address where players like defensive tackles Johnny Jolly and Justin Harrell might best fit.

Linebacker is perhaps the Packers' deepest position on defense, and on the surface Nick Barnett, A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop have the most experience inside, while Brady Poppinga and Brandon Chillar are more likely outside players.

"I feel strongly that most of those pieces are already here," McCarthy said.

{sportsad300}McCarthy said he spoke with Capers at length about the linebackers and how best to use them, and the two discussed the secondary as well. The Packers have been known for their man-to-man, bump-and-run coverage of receivers since McCarthy arrived, but that won't necessarily change just because the defensive front will have a new look.

"Those are all questions as we move forward, because just like I've stated, you're going to fit the schemes to your personnel," McCarthy said. "You watch the AFC Championship Game yesterday, Baltimore played a lot more man-to-man and bump-and-run from what I saw on TV, and you saw more of the zone principle with Pittsburgh. Those are all options in the 3-4 defense."

McCarthy didn't give a timetable for how long it will take the players to adapt to and learn the new scheme. But the change places that much more importance on the offseason program, when players get the chance to work on an individual basis with their position coaches.

With the exception of the linebackers, who will still be led by assistant head coach Winston Moss, the rest of the defensive players will have new position coaches. McCarthy said he has brought several candidates in for interviews already, and he'll continue that search process in tandem with Capers this week.

"A change in the direction of our program was needed, and that's why I made the changes," McCarthy said. "Each change is in the best interest of the Green Bay Packers bringing home the next world championship here and that's the view. That's part of my responsibility, and we need to improve in every aspect of our program year in and year out, and that's what I am in the process of doing."

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