5 Packers Defensive Coordinator Candidates

It’s close to a foregone conclusion that Matt LaFleur will be seeking a new defensive coordinator after this season. The scheme that Joe Barry had just one year’s experience in hasn’t worked in Green Bay and the defense has regressed in almost every area despite adding two first round picks last offseason. Would LaFleur double down on the Fangio scheme? Will he hire from within? Here are a few candidates for Packers defensive coordinator should Joe Barry be let go.

Jim Leonhard

You can’t start this conversation with anyone other than Leonhard. LaFleur offered him the job last time and Leonhard is probably the biggest free agent in college football coaching right now.

Leonhard spent years in the Rex Ryan/Mike Pettine scheme in the NFL, but the scheme he ran in Madison was more Dave Aranda and Justin Wilcox than Ryan and Pettine. It’s an odd front scheme that is built to stop the pass and often brings so-called creeper pressures where four men rush the passer, but it is not the normal four. An inside linebacker will often replace an edge rusher while looping around the other side of the line.

Leonhard’s scheme is semi-similar to the Fangio scheme, but he uses a lot more of the creeper pressures and stunts by the defensive line to create pressure. Rather than simply relying on the front four to beat their man every down.

Leonhard is certainly a popular option to become Green Bay’s defensive coordinator, but I wonder if he’d rather spend a year off after getting blindsided in Madison. And then return to the college ranks at USC or another big-name school.

Ejiro Evero

Evero was the second choice who LaFleur passed over for Barry’s experience. He has built a top 5 defense in Denver this season despite losing his best pass rusher to trade and second best to injury for much of the season.

Evero would likely be a good hire, but his availability depends on the Broncos coaching staff getting fired. I doubt the organization will give up on Nate Hackett after one season but even if they do you have to think they’d like to keep consistency with the defense.

Mike Zimmer

Zimmer is another popular choice. He’s had a ton of great defenses over the years and later on in his Vikings’ tenure started to major in the quarters coverage that LaFleur seems to want.

I don’t think LaFleur would even entertain the idea. He seems to want someone using a fresh scheme. If he wanted a seasoned coordinator, he would’ve at least interviewed Wade Phillips last time. Additionally, Zimmer’s coaching style is about as different as it possible to be from LaFleur’s. It’s hard to imagine Zimmer’s rough coaching meshing well with LaFleur’s calm players first approach.

Jerry Gray

Gray was a popular choice to succeed Pettine and got an interview with LaFleur then, but I think many of the arguments about Zimmer apply to him as well. Gray is an older coach who has experience in several different schemes but never really had consistent success as a coordinator. Not to mention, the secondary has had almost uniformly bad play this season.

If Gray was going to be the choice, why wouldn’t LaFleur have allowed him to take over mid-season?

Joe Whitt Jr.

The former Packers’ cornerbacks coach could be surprise candidate. Whitt is highly thought of around the league and has been a big part of the Cowboys’ defense’s rise over the past two years. If LaFleur gets a positive review from his old boss, Dan Quinn, it would likely go a long way.

The Cowboys have shown the willingness to play press man coverage, zone, to blitz, to rush 4, and to do whatever it takes to adjust their defense to personnel over the past couple years. It would also be interesting to see the Packers using Quay Walker like the Cowboys use Micah Parsons. Both linebackers are probably better when running toward the QB.   

Mike Price is a lifelong Packers fan currently living in Utah. You can follow him on twitter at @themikeprice.

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