There has been an understandably large focus on the offense of the Green Bay Packers for the last several months. This comes as no surprise with the departure of hall of fame QB Aaron Rodgers, and with first round QB Jordan Love taking over in his place. With an absence of similarly notable shakeups on the other side of the ball (sorry, Adrian Amos) it seems like conversations about what the Packers defense has in store have all but ceased.
With Green Bay’s first depth chart of training camp being released yesterday, let’s take a look at defensive position groups and manage some expectations about the 2023 season.
This is a group that seems to be shaping up quite nicely heading into the season. To start; you want players who can rush the passer and set the edge against the run game. A pass rushing duo made up of Rashan Gary and Preston Smith has already shown that it is capable of far more than that at its best.
Gary, who was recently activated off of the PUP list, is truly an All-Pro caliber player who hasn’t had his moment yet. Fortunately the Packers have also opted to keep this very important position group strong with the addition of Lukas Van Ness with the 13th overall pick in the draft.
The interior of the D-line is anchored by one of the most consistent nose tackles (though he’s actually listed as a DE this year) in the NFL, Kenny Clark. Besides Clark there’s not much to be extremely excited about, besides the depth or the fact that former first round DL Devonte Wyatt has looked like a fully grown man during his second training camp in the NFL. Expect the defensive front to rotate very consistently and expect capable players to be on the field here at most times.
There’s not a ton to say here, De’Vondre Campbell is one year removed from an All-Pro season and second year LB Quay Walker has raw athleticism and potential that he was assumed to have as a first round talent in 2022.
The group behind the two starters isn’t incredibly inspiring, but barring injury it is probably reasonable to expect nothing less than a very solid performance from the inside linebacker group in Green Bay this season.
The back end of the Packers defense may very well have the best starter on the team as well as the worst starter on the team, but that of course is yet to be seen. Jaire Alexander, Rasul Douglas, Eric Stokes (once he’s cleared from the PUP list), and even Keisean Nixon as a nickel, make up an elite cornerback room that opposing offenses will fear. It’s the guys behind them playing safety that might make things a little bit difficult for the defense.
Darnell Savage and Adrian Amos once made up a safety duo where the former was often a liability and the latter was an anchor and a supremely skilled playmaker for the defense. They are unfortunately left with the former.
Savage has always shown flashes of potential, and while it seems like we know enough to avoid holding our collective breath on him, who knows. Rudy Ford is listed as the safety who will be starting alongside him and while he looked promising in limited snaps last season he’s ultimately a wild card on this starting defense. Behind these two are the recently acquired free agent Jonathan Owens, who has never really looked special while starting in the NFL, and Tarvarius Moore who has made little to no waves since entering the league in 2018.
Rookie safety Anthony Johnson Jr. is admittedly intriguing, his athleticism and prowess make it less than obvious that he fell to the seventh round of the draft. That said, he certainly has a steep hill to climb if he wants to make a meaningful impact on this team in 2023.
What Does This all Equate to?
Overall, the Packers have a very solid defense all around except for one position, and honestly everyone else might just be good enough to cover up the expected lackluster safety play.
It’s important to note that there are several other factors besides the expected contributions from each player on the defense that go into these considerations. The reportedly more aggressive play style of the defense this year might change things for better or worse. Although let’s face it, with the safety group looking how it does one can only hope that aggression means each play ends in a QB hit, a quick pass deflection, or a quick tackle on a running back.
There is also the consideration of how well the offense preforms, as allowing the defense to rest and recover, as well as avoiding turnovers that place them in bad positions, can ultimately help make a good defense look great. The likely truth here is that the offense will make costly mistakes as they grow and learn, and it will impact the defense more than Packers fans would probably like to see.
Can the self titled “Strap City” secondary as well as the rest of the defense show out and propel the young team to a winning record? Honestly, it’s probably not all that likely. Fortunately, they are still a young and underrated unit who will prove that they have what it takes for years to come.——————
Zack is a college student and cheesehead from California. When he’s not in class or writing, you can find him talking about the Packers on Twitter at @Zack_Upchurch.