Defense 'not panicking' after Nelson injury
They swarmed the Green Bay Packers' wide receivers Tuesday afternoon, reporters with cameras and questions about how Randall Cobb, Davante Adams and company can do the impossible.
Nobody is replacing injured All-Pro Jordy Nelson. Not alone. It takes a team effort, coach Mike McCarthy said. Everyone must do a little more.
So on Wednesday, reporters swarmed outside linebacker Julius Peppers. And defensive end Mike Daniels. And other key members of the Packers' defense. Nelson's absence this season won't just impact the Packers' offense.
The defense must also step up.
"The road is going to be tough in there without Jordy," Peppers said, "because he's such a big part of the team. But I think we've got the right guys in here, and the right approach to get through it."
In his previous 14 seasons, Peppers said, he can't recall losing such an integral member of his team during the preseason. A "star" player, Peppers called him. But he said the Packers have no choice. They have to move forward, without Nelson.
Two years ago, the Packers' defense was in a similar position. When quarterback Aaron Rodgers missed eight games in 2013 – most of the season's second half – with a collarbone injury, there was even more pressure. The Packers were 2-5-1 in those games, allowing an average of 29.1 points per game. They finished 24th in the league with 26.8 points allowed that season.
This defense, Daniels believes, is better equipped to handle the pressure. It's not the "little brother" they used to be inside the Packers' locker room, he said.
"I remember a couple years ago when Aaron was going down," Daniels said, "and it almost seemed like the sky was falling. This is different times now. We've lost one of our offensive leaders – one of the better players in this league – and the defensive guys, we're not panicking. We're just getting ready to get rolling. We know there's a little more weight put on our shoulders, and we're welcoming it."
Daniels pointed to the "different personalities" around the locker room. Clay Matthews. Morgan Burnett. B.J. Raji. The Packers have several players who've played a lot of defensive snaps, leaders who know the expectations.
Then there's Peppers. The former Chicago Bears defensive end hasn't been with the team for long, but he's seen the Packers' defense up close for five years – within the division when not inside the same locker room.
Peppers knows the defense has improved. Last season, the Packers finished No. 13 in the league, allowing 21.8 points per game. They may need to do better if they want a crack at Super Bowl 50.
"It's going to be a team effort to try to pick up some of the slack from what happened with Jordy," Peppers said. "We're going to need everybody. We're going to miss him. We're definitely going to miss his production and leadership in the locker room. It's going to take a little bit from each person to try to pitch in and make up for some of the loss."
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