It’s no secret that the Packers defense has been its Achilles Heel for the past few seasons. The potent offense, led by Aaron Rodgers , has had no issues putting up enough points to keep the Packers competitive, but the defense has continually let the team down.
The Packers’ defense has struggled for various reasons; some would argue the scheme is the issue, while injuries and a lack of playmakers are obvious culprits.
The addition of Julius Peppers was a good start to fortifying the defense, and the upcoming draft should also net the Packers some more help. But the addition of a 34 year old pass rusher in free agency, and the potential additions of some young talent through the draft will not fix the Packers defense alone.
The Packers will need players who are already on the team to step up and show a marked improvement in their second and third years. Here are four players that could make a big impact for the Packers’ defense this season.
Datone Jones – Defensive End
Expectations were high for Jones coming into his rookie season, but after an ankle injury during preseason, which Mike McCarthy recently said was worse than they let on, Jones never showed the same explosiveness he had before the injury. Towards the end of the season Jones was seeing less and less playing time, and ended the season with just 3.5 sacks and 10 tackles. Disappointing numbers for a 1st round draft choice.
With the move of BJ Raji back to nose tackle where he can tie up blockers, the addition of Julius Peppers to create pressure off the edge, and the return of a healthy Clay Matthews, Jones will have every opportunity to be an impact player this year along the Packers defensive front.
Jerel Worthy – Defensive End
Stories like Worthy are all too common for the Packers as of late. A promising young player sustains a serious injury and spends more time on injured reserve than actually contributing. Worthy started 4 games his rookie year and played in 10 more, accumulating 14 tackles and 2.5 sacks, before tearing his ACL in week 17.
Worthy started the 2013 season on the PUP list, and when he returned he played just 2 games where he was credited with just 1 tackle. The emergence of Mike Daniels and the signing of Letroy Guion makes Worthy’s role a bit unclear. But If he is healthy this season, and performs up to his abilities, the Packers will need to make room for Worthy in their defensive line rotation.
Micah Hyde – Cornerback/ Safety
Hyde probably saw a lot more playing time then the Packers envisioned when they selected him in the 5th round of last year’s draft. Due to Casey Hayward’s hamstring injury, Hyde spent a lot of time as a nickel back and also started 3 games.
McCarthy has made it clear this off season that he wants Hyde on the field more often, which could very well mean a move to safety. Hyde’s tackling ability and ball skills would make him a natural fit at the position, and if the Packers don’t select a safety in the first couple rounds, look for Hyde to get a shot to start next to Morgan Burnett this coming season.
Nick Perry – Outside Linebacker
Despite the importance of outside linebackers in a 3-4 defense, Ted Thompson and the Packers have only used 2 high draft choices on the position since moving to the 3-4 in 2009, Clay Matthews in 2009 and Nick Perry in 2012. So the Packers have asked a lot out of unheralded players like Frank Zombo, Erik Walden and now Andy Mulumba.
Perry’s career has been stunted due to injuries, missing games 15 games his first 2 seasons. When Perry has been on the field he has shown pass rush ability, but he still looks uncomfortable in coverage, causing some to wonder if he would better suited to play defensive end in a 4-3 scheme. Whatever the Packers defensive plans are this upcoming season, let’s hope they find a way to maximize Perry’s pass rushing ability, while camouflaging his coverage deficiencies.——————