Who doesn’t love fun nicknames in football. They can be for single players, position groups, or entire squads. Some of the best in history have been Seattle’s Legion of Boom, Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain, and St. Louis’s Greatest Show on Turf. These nicknames help endear those players to fans and stick in their memories for years, if not forever. In 2020 and 2021 the Green Bay Packers Defense had adopted the nickname “The D-Train.” While these squads weren’t spectacular, they still got the job done. Post-turnover celebrations included guys all in a group following the leader blowing a whistle like a train. The fans loved it, of course, and “D-Train” signs started popping up all over Lambeau. It was new, it was fun, it was exciting.
But, when 2022 rolled around, the D-Train seemed to derail. Let’s not put it all on the defense though. They did keep the offense in a few games giving them a chance. But there were also some incredibly bone-headed moments. Blown assignments and soft coverage, those aren’t attributes of a Defense that’s comparing themselves to a train. Can they get the D-Train back on the track?
I will say that, maybe the D-Train is dead. Some of the players involved in those two seasons have departed. As much as I personally liked the nickname, maybe they start a new nickname to go with a new defense. But some parts of that old D-Train will need to step up for the rejuvenation.
Power Up the Old Locomotives
Green Bay is going to lean heavily on their defense in the first few weeks of the season. It’s not a knock-on Jordan Love or the Offense at all. It’s the nature of the beast when you have a first-year starting QB. There are going to be some growing pains on that side of the ball.
Guess where the majority of veterans are on this team, Defense. The guys that will be the readiest to go Week 1 are the defensive veterans. We’re talking about Jaire Alexander, Preston Smith, Kenny Clark, Rasul Douglas, and De’Vondre Campbell. They’re some of the old locomotives that have been part of the D-Train that can still be relied on.
If there’s one thing I believe Joe Barry needs to do to help his Cornerbacks be successful this season, it’s let them play their game. This isn’t a shock to anyone, Jaire Alexander is the best CB on the team. Jaire wants the challenge of covering the opposition’s best receiver every game. So, let him do it. I grow tired of hearing about Alexander not being on the best WR because “they weren’t lined up in his position.” Jaire is intelligent enough, and fast enough to play all CB positions. Again, let him do it.
You might say Preston Smith has lost a step, but there really isn’t much evidence of that. 8.5 sacks, 20 QB hits in 2022, that says he’s still a force. Rashan Gary might start getting to the ball before him and cutting down on those numbers, but he can still bring it. Even though the Packers have a very promising young EDGE group now, they need to let Smith rotate with them and show them how it’s done.
Then there’s Kenny Clark. Clark has still been a force despite it feeling like he’s there to eat blocks 50% of the time. We now have some good interior depth where I think it’s time some of those other guys eat the blocks. It’s time to unleash Kenny Clark to his full potential. This is about to be Clark’s 8th season, and he’s only 27 years old. Let’s let the beast out and see if he can become even more of a nightmare to opposing Quarterbacks.
Get the Youth Rolling
This defense has a plethora of talent that’s only been in the league a few years. Now is their time to shine. This team has way too much draft capital invested in the defense for them to just flop. I think that has to be the most frustrating part of the Packers drafting Defense in the first round nearly every year. If the pick came with the comment “The Packers Draft another defender to join their powerhouse defense,” it would be a much easier pill to swallow. But since despite that investment the Defense is still atrocious at times, we can’t stand it. It needs to pay off soon.
We watched Quay Walker show some signs of promise in his rookie season. Yes, of course, there were the frustration moments. But Walker has already showed some maturity by acknowledging those moments and actively taking steps to help correct them. Outside of De’Vondre Campbell’s All-Pro season, the Packers haven’t had that show-stopping Inside-Linebacker in a long time. It would be nice for Quay Walker to take that part.
Devonte Wyatt wasn’t on the field a lot his rookie season. He was already being called a project player from the moment he was drafted. Some think that project could start showing it’s progress in year 2. As I said earlier it’s time to let Kenny Clark loose. Perhaps the help he gets will come in the form of Devonte Wyatt.
Do or Die
Many say this is a “Do or Die” season for Defensive Coordinator Joe Barry. And it’s 110% true. I couldn’t believe he kept his job after the season, but his defense did in a way help rejuvenate the team for a playoff push. So, it looks like he bought himself one more chance.
It’s a strange thought to realize that we might see our first mid-year firing of a coordinator in some time. Matt LaFleur has stated before that he doesn’t believe in such firings and thinks they cause more harm than good. But I think if the first half of the season the defense struggles, Joe Barry’s seat could explode very quickly. You might as well see if an internal candidate could do better while you navigate a season that no one is expecting much out of the team in the first place.
This defense has the tools and the talent to bring back the D-Train. We’ll have to see what happens once it leaves the station in 2023, but I’m hoping for a return to our Defense becoming a strength.
Greg Meinholz is a lifelong devoted Packer fan. A contributor to PackersTalk as well as CheeseheadTV. Follow him on Twitter at @gmeinholz. for Packers commentary, random humor, beer endorsements, and occasional Star Wars and Marvel ramblings.