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Green Bay Packers draft for defense, developmental QB

Apr. 28, 2012
 

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Iowa's Mike Daniels had surgery on a torn labrum in his shoulder in late January and was cleared medically to work out only two weeks ago. / File/Getty Images

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Maybe Ted Thompson wasn’t joking Friday night. Maybe he really has gone crazy.

The general manager who values draft picks perhaps more than any front-office executive in the NFL went against his long history of hoarding selections and instead turned in a focused effort at this year’s NFL draft to upgrade a Green Bay Packers defense that last season ranked last in the NFL in yards allowed, passing yards allowed and sacks percentage.

Over three days of selecting, Thompson used his first six picks on defensive players. Moreover, he traded four extra picks to move up three times to do it.

That included a busy Saturday during which Thompson selected Iowa defensive lineman Mike Daniels in the fourth round, the second inside pass rusher he selected in this draft; Maine safety Jerron McMillian in the fifth round to compete for an open starting spot; and traded three picks for one to move from the sixth round to the fifth to pick North Carolina State inside linebacker Terrell Manning, whose blitzing caught the Packers’ eye.

It’s the first time in team history the Packers have used their first six picks in a draft on defense. That Thompson was willing to trade away four picks to make sure he got the defensive players he’d targeted is the ultimate indictment of the pass defense’s performance in 2011.

“It’s horrible,” Thompson joked about entering the draft with 12 picks and leaving with only eight players. “I felt about as ashamed — I’m not my father’s son anymore, because my father’s very frugal. It’s pathetic. But in this case, I felt like it was appropriate.

“I felt like we had a good, solid team, and I felt like, where we felt like we were getting quality, we should try to do it. So we made three trades up.”

Thompson finally drafted two offensive players with his last two picks, in the seventh round: Andrew Datko, a tackle from Florida State whose draft grade plummeted because of a shoulder injury early last season, and B.J. Coleman, a quarterback from Tennessee-Chattanooga who is a developmental backup prospect.

The defensive orientation of this draft left unaddressed a couple of offensive positions of less urgent need — center and running back. The Packers figure to sign players at those positions from the pool of undrafted players. But this draft clearly was about one thing for a team that went 15-1 in the regular season but was knocked out of the divisional round of the playoffs by the New York Giants: defending the pass.

“The ability to get more athletic and the ability to have more pass rush from both the inside and outside players on the defense was a focus,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “That’s reflected in the people we’ve acquired.”

Thompson drafted an inside rusher Friday, second-round pick Jerel Worthy. In Daniels (6-foot-0½ and 291 pounds) Thompson selected a shorter player than preferred for the Packers’ 3-4 scheme, but Cullen Jenkins showed in 2009 and ’10 that inside rushing isn’t just about height. Daniels also carries a medical caution tag because he had surgery on a torn labrum in a shoulder in late January — current Packers defensive end Mike Neal had the same surgery in college and ended up injuring his other shoulder as a rookie. Daniels was cleared to work out only two weeks ago, so he wasn’t able to do anything for NFL scouts this offseason.

But the Packers drafted Daniels because as a defensive tackle at Iowa he had nine sacks last season and 13½ the last two years combined.

“The thing that jumps out at me is the way (Daniels) plays the game,” said Dom Capers, the Packers’ defensive coordinator. “He plays the game with quickness, intensity. I think he’ll bring a sense of energy with him. I think both the defensive linemen we’ve added have excellent in-line quickness that you have to have in this day and age in order to beat a one-on-one block.”

Said Thompson: “We think certainly Mike (Daniels) can give us some juice on the inside.”

The Packers picked McMillian too late, the bottom of the fourth round (No. 133 overall), to consider him the front-runner to replace Nick Collins, though the rookie will get every chance to win the job against Charlie Peprah, M.D. Jennings and Anthony Levine.

McMillian has average size at best for a safety at 5-11 1/8 and 203 pounds, though coverage skills at that position are becoming more critical then striking ability as the NFL evolves. Thompson selected the Division I-AA player ahead of several better-known safety prospects, most notably Boise State’s George Iloka (fifth round to Cincinnati), Oklahoma State’s Markelle Martin (sixth round to Tennessee) and Michigan State’s Trent Robinson (sixth round to San Francisco).

McMillian had eight interceptions in his three seasons as a starter at Maine. At the scouting combine he ran the 40 in a good but not great 4.50 seconds, had a 36½-inch vertical jump and an outstanding 6.69-second three-cone drill. Coach Mike McCarthy has talked repeatedly this offseason about improving the team’s tackling, and upgrading the athleticism at safety is one way to do that.

“(McMillian) just had a very aggressive style when you watched him play,” Capers said. “You could tell his movement skills, he was making plays on the line of scrimmage and he did a good job breaking on (passes) from the deep zone. We just think he had the movement and the speed. If you had to play him deep he could play deep and go get the ball, and if you brought him down to play the run he went after the run and showed the quickness and speed that we like.”

Manning was less of a need pick at inside linebacker, though Thompson’s willingness to trade two extra picks (seventh-rounders) to move up from the sixth round to the fifth to get him says plenty and perhaps raises questions about A.J. Hawk’s long-term future with the team. The Packers have Hawk and Desmond Bishop returning, plus D.J. Smith, who had a promising rookie season last year, as a backup along with Robert Francois.

At 6-2 1/8 and 237, Manning doesn’t have distinguishing speed (4.75 seconds in the 40), but he’s coming off a season in which he had arthroscopic surgery on his knee early in the year and returned after missing two games to be the best player on North Carolina State’s defense. He finished last season with 14½ tackles for loss and 5½ sacks.

The Packers especially liked Manning as a blitzer, though they appear to regard him solely as an inside linebacker, not outside as well.

“He can be in a two-point stance off the edge and rush with effectiveness,” said Winston Moss, the Packers’ assistant head coach-inside linebackers coach. “I saw some good snaps to where he got in a three-point stance and he was able to come off that left side, right side from inside, and he had some production there, he had some impact there. So I would expect him to be able to do that on this level.”

In the seventh round, Thompson addressed a need on offense by selecting Coleman, who will go up against Graham Harrell and Nick Hill for the backup job opened by Matt Flynn’s departure in free agency. Coleman has the physical traits teams look for in an NFL passer at 6-3 and 233 pounds and is coming off a broken pinky finger that prevented him from throwing at the NFL scouting combine but was OK by his campus workout in late March.

Coleman, who tied for the second-largest hands (10 3/8 inches) of all the quarterbacks at the combine, transferred to Tennessee-Chattanooga after losing the competition for the starting job at Tennessee going into his sophomore season.

“The big hands, the long arms, that’s something I always pay attention to,” McCarthy said, “particularly with being in Green Bay, Wisconsin. I’m not saying you can’t play without it, but I think it’s a plus as far as the evaluation process. I know his history, the ability to improve Chattanooga, their record, you could see their improvement. Very anxious young man. His skill set is something we were really intrigued by and want to develop.”

In selecting Datko, the Packers chose not to draft a developmental center as a possible successor to recently signed Jeff Saturday, who turns 37 in June. When the Packers picked at No. 241, center prospects such as Ohio State’s Mike Brewster, Arizona State’s Garth Gerhart, Mississippi State’s Quentin Saulsberry and Delaware’s Gino Gratkowski were on the board. Only Gratkowski was gone by draft’s end, so the others were available to sign as free agents.

Datko was Florida State’s starting left tackle from his freshman season until last year, when a shoulder injury required surgery and caused him to miss the final nine games.

“Heck of a football player,” McCarthy said. “Clearly Andrew would have had a lot higher grade if it wasn’t for the shoulder. Smart, tough. I know everybody’s excited about him.”

pdougher@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @petedougherty.

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