Tom Oates column: 2012 picks speak volumes about state of roster

Apr. 28, 2012
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A postseason statistical analysis by Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy revealed two major culprits in the great defensive collapse of 2011.

In March, McCarthy said the Packers “were not a very good tackling team” and had strayed too far from the basics of the defense in terms of strategies and personnel groups.

McCarthy’s conclusion seemed to indicate the Packers’ biggest problems on defense were poor playing and misguided coaching. Nowhere, however, did he admit the Packers had serious personnel shortcomings on defense as well.

That’s OK, because the NFL draft that concluded Saturday spoke volumes on that topic.

Green Bay’s first six picks were defenders, including one at every position except nose tackle. It wasn’t until the seventh round that General Manager Ted Thompson added any potential help for his state-of-the-art and largely intact offense, preferring instead to concentrate on rebuilding the defense. If that massive infusion of talent from a man who professes to draft the “best available player” didn’t tell you all you need to know about the Packers defense, nothing will.

But will that draft bonanza make the defense — and therefore the team — better in the fall?

“I don’t think you walk into one opportunity of player acquisition and say you fix something,” McCarthy said Saturday. “It’s a mindset that I don’t really participate in. You have three ways to improve your football team during the offseason, obviously veteran free agency, your offseason (workout) program and then through the NFL draft. So this is a step in improving our football team.”

If several of the newcomers can help right away, however, it will be a giant step for the defense. Whether anyone in Green Bay chooses to admit it or not, the defensive talent fell to dangerously low levels last season, especially in the front seven.

Still, McCarthy professed to be very happy with his team even before it added defensive ends Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels, outside linebacker Nick Perry, inside linebacker Terrell Manning, cornerback Casey Hayward and safety Jerron McMillian.

“Two weeks ago we had a team meeting and standing in front of our team, that’s as good of a group as I’ve stood in front of in April,” he said. “And now to add the competition we’ve added to our players, we’re just heightening the competition. We didn’t play very well on defense, so we need to coach better, we need to play better and we’ll do better on offense.”

If the defense, which was ranked last in the NFL, can improve, it will take untold pressure off the offense, pressure that seemed to be getting to the unit in the final month of last season.

Nowhere was the defense more depleted than up front, where the Packers suffered multiple mishaps in recent years. Former No. 1 pick Justin Harrell was a bust, end Johnny Jolly went to prison on drug charges, inside pass-rusher Cullen Jenkins left via free agency and end Mike Neal, a second-round pick in 2010, hasn’t been able to stay healthy and now must sit out four games for a violation of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.

When Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins was lost to a neck injury in the second game last year, defensive coordinator Dom Capers had to feel like an unarmed man heading into battle. Capers responded by emptying his playbook, but nothing worked.

In the draft, the Packers added a potentially dynamic edge pass rusher in Perry, two quick inside pass rushers in Worthy and Daniels and two playmakers in the secondary. Earlier, they signed inside pass-rusher Anthony Hargrove in free agency.

More than anything, the ability to attack the quarterback from every position along the line will help the Packers defense return to its 2010 form. The increased depth on defense will give Capers options he simply didn’t have last season.

“I think it’ll give us more versatility in how we play defense as far as the different defensive personnel groups ...,” McCarthy said. “The ability to get more athletic and the ability to have more pass rush from the inside and outside players on the defense was a focus. I think that’s reflected in the people that we acquired both in free agency and the draft.”

It’s as simple as that. The Packers didn’t need to buy more tackling dummies for practice and they didn’t need Capers to dumb down his game plans. What they needed more than anything was a significant influx of talent. They got that in this draft.

Contact Tom Oates at or 608-252-6172.

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