Capers confident in young outside linebackers

Jun. 19, 2013

When Dom Capers gazes around the Green Bay Packers’ outside linebackers room, the long-time defensive coordinator sees a lot of youth.

Unquestionably talented, but green to his way of running a 3-4 defense.

That's OK. More often than not, these are the conditions Capers has worked under in his decades as an NFL coach and defensive coordinator.

With the Packers, they’ve had success with it, ranking in the top five in sacks in two of the past three seasons. The poster child for the system, Clay Matthews, has ushered in a wave of low-risk, high-return complimentary pieces such as Erik Walden, Frank Zombo, Brad Jones and Dezman Moses.

Today, the room is about as young as you’ll find with only Matthews and second-year pros Nick Perry and Moses returning from last year’s squad.

Gone are Walden and Zombo, replaced with another class of either late-round or undrafted prospects that Capers and outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene will be tasked with molding come training camp.

With very few schools running Capers’ defense in the college ranks outside of the occasional fire-zone package, it's the job of the team's coaches and scouts look for hints.

This offseason, Greene spent time with Illinois State defensive coordinator Spence Nowinsky, comparing notes prior drafting Redbirds defensive end Nate Palmer (6-2, 248) in the sixth round of April’s NFL Draft.

The front office scoured the lower FBS levels to find Eastern Michigan’s Andy Mulumba (6-3, 260) and inked New Mexico State’s Donte Savage (6-1, 252) to a contract shortly after a tryout at their rookie orientation in May.

When organized team activities came around, they even started rotating fourth-year defensive lineman Mike Neal in with the outside linebackers.

Could one of them become a dominant difference-maker like Matthews or at least a solid undrafted contributor like Moses? That will be the coaching staff's job to determine in a little more than a month.

“I think there’s some athletic ability there. Those guys normally have the furthest to go because they haven’t done the kind of stuff we’re asking them to do,” Capers said.

"I look at a guy like Nick Perry. Nick always had his head down and came in, and we put him in on a crash course and started him out here in the first game. We force-fed him, but I think he’s more comfortable right now at least being around it for a year."

However, there are serious questions to be answered, especially with how much the Packers will be depending on Perry, the team's first-round pick in 2012.

A former 4-3 defensive end at USC, Perry's conversion to a two-point stance was interrupted after only six games due to season-ending wrist surgery.

A full participant during the OTA and mini-camp practices open to the media, Perry now weighs closer to the 260-pound mark the Packers look for their outside linebackers to be at.

He'll continue wearing some form of a cast to protect his wrist, but can't wait to make up for lost time this season.

"When it was taken away, it was devastating, just because I never have been out," Perry said. "So I was pretty bitter and pretty (ticked) that I couldn’t get on the field and help. Now, I’m back, back in the mix of things, and I’m still, I still have a (monkey) on my back because I still have something to prove, I have to stay healthy and do what I need to do."

With plenty of snaps to distribute in training camp, Capers is confident the young outside linebackers will be able grasp the techniques and philosophies of the system.

Just like Moses, Walden and others before them.

“We’ve had experience with those guys who haven’t done it before with them learning how to do it," Capers said. "I think we have some pretty good young athletes. We’ll probably have to wait and see once we get into training camp and preseason games, and we’ll play those guys a lot to get them experience, so we can get a good feel.”

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