Even if the Packers’ passing prowess continues on its slow but steady descent, my prior post (Packers Are Undergoing a Seismic Adjustment Period, 4/29) theorized that a new focus on the run game could still result in a potent offense overall. Another scenario would be: a defense that is so dominant it could compensate for a weakening pass attack.
If anyone tries to guarantee the Packers’ defense is going to be awesome in 2019, they are just guessing. There are too many unknowns and variables out there. But changes made since the end of last season bode very well for a much stouter defense in Mike Pettine’s second year as defensive coordinator.
The most glaring change is that the Packers will have two starting edge rushers and one or two starting safeties who weren’t even on the team last December. That’s huge – arguably the primarily holes in last year’s defense have been filled – and cemented over – for years to come.
A second reason for believing in this reconstituted defense is that so many young (and mostly high-draft) guys should be much improved after another year of play in the NFL. CBs Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson, and LB Oren Burks and are beginning their second year; CB Kevin King, S Josh Jones, and DT Montravius Adams are entering Year 3.
Defensive tackle Kenny Clark (only 23), LB Blake Martinez, LB Kyler Fackrell, and DE Dean Lowry are entering Year 4 – contract years for most. Edge rushers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith, as well as safety Adrian Amos should be reaching full maturity in their fifth years.
Get this: the only expected defensive starter who has more than four years of NFL wear and tear is Mike Daniels. I hadn’t realized just how thoroughly the front office has reconstituted the Pack’s defense.
Not already mentioned are the following recent defensive draftees, some of whom will win spots on the roster: DT Kingsley Keke (Rd. 5), CB Ka’Dar Hollman (Rd. 6), and LB Ty Summers (Rd. 7).
It’s a near-total makeover. The Packers 2019 defense: the young and the restless!
The purges have been massive, including lots of undrafted or low-potential players who the Packers devoted much time to, without success, including: Quinton Rollins, Kentrell Brice, Antonio Morrison, Jermaine Whitehead, Vince Biegel, Donatello Brown, Marwin Evans, LaDarius Gunter, Josh Hawkins, Lenzi Pipkins, and Joe Thomas.
Then there’s the guys who were determined to have passed their expiration dates, including: Clay Matthews, Morgan Burnett, Nick Perry, Jake Ryan, Muhammad Wilkerson, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Ahmad Brooks, Quinton Dial, and Ricky Jean-Francois.
That’s twenty defensive players who were more than nominal members of the team in either 2017 or 2018.
Now, add to this that returning defenders have had a year to adjust to Pettine’s schemes and style. Also the players acquired in the last two years can be said to have been selected specifically to excel in Pettine’s defense.
The makings are there to form the best defense the Packers have put on the field since 2010, when they finished at fifth overall in the league. You probably recall how that unit finished off the post-season.