New Defensive Coordinator Jeff Hafley made quite the first impression last week.  Packers fans should be beaming with excitement after Hafley’s 30-minute press conference.  Most fans are eager for a fresh start on defense and many are laying their heads on the pillow at night dreaming of an entirely new defensive approach.  That dream should include aggression, speed, and tenaciousness.  However, most importantly, that dream needs to include Hafley and co relying on his elite defensive players and maximizing their unique skill sets so that these stars can perform at their highest level.

It is no secret that the Packers defense includes several players with game-changing ability.  Even more to that point, the Packers defense has these type of players on all three levels.  It must be a critical point of emphasis for Hafley and his new staff to prioritize the importance of making sure Jaire Alexander, Rashon Gary, Kenny Clark, Preston Smith, and Quay Walker are lined up in positions to dominate games.

Just this past season, Rashon Gary took control of the Saints game and the Lions game in Detroit.  Gary kept the Packers alive against the Saints.  In Detroit, in his return to the place where he tore his ACL a year ago, Gary had 3 sacks and two forced fumbles, one led to a Jonathan Owens scoop and score.  Alexander’s interception in Dallas in the Wild Card round was the start of the Cowboy beat down.  Preston Smith made a mockery of the Vikings offensive line in Minnesota on New Year’s Eve.  These players all have the ability to have a massive impact on the game.  It might be time to take the training wheels off and trust the younger players like Lukas Van Ness and Devonte Wyatt.  These two guys have shown the more they play, the better they become.  

Jaire Alexander intercepts Dak Prescott

In Hafley’s introductory press conference, he stressed the importance of making sure his key players will be set up for success and at one point, he said “Our job is to put the players in the best position to succeed and make plays”.  Packer fans have to wonder if that means Jaire will shadow the opponent’s #1 WR and if Gary, Smith, Van Ness, and Clark will be used in exotic pass rushing schemes.  Even more so, what does that mean for Quay Walker?  The Packers have one of the most athletic linebackers in the NFL.  Hafley must stress the magnitude of Walker’s ability when he is placed in the right spots especially since his scheme requires a talented linebacker to be successful.

Overall, Matt LaFleur does a solid job of getting his key offensive players the ball.  Jeff Hafley seems to be determined to take a similar approach with his top defensive guys.  Hafley even went so far to say that, “When you get to 3rd down, you want to get your four best pass rushers on the field.”  How often did the Packers send three or four rushers and play soft zone coverage on 3rd down during the Barry era? Hafley does not seem to be scared to rush the passer and play more press man in critical down and distances. It is essential to the Packers defensive success to rely on their top defenders in these situations.

Packer fans are also hoping that Hafley will bring a much needed improvement of communication and preparation.  There were countless times this past season were players looked lost, confused, and unprepared.  Hafley did emphasize the importance of establishing a trusting and communicative relationship with his players. Typically, when a coach can trust a player and visa versa, things tend to work out well.

The defensive scheme is yet to be finalized but it is awfully clear that Hafley seems destined to fulfill Packer fans’ dreams of their elite players being trusted and used correctly.  It certainly seems like Hafley will allow his players to be very vocal and very involved in the game plan.  Everyone is well aware of the personalities on the defensive side and how critical it is for those individuals to be themselves.  Jordan Love and his arsenal of offensive skill players will not need a shutdown defense to win games but one big defensive play might be just enough for the Packers to be awfully successful next year.  When in doubt Coach Hafley, remember to maximize your player’s ability, utilize your elite players correctly, and rely on them to dominate.