For a team that's been criticized as "soft" in recent seasons, the Green Bay Packers took their first step toward changing that notion on Sunday when they donned pads for the first time since opening their 2013 training camp.
Mike McCarthy characterized practice by saying "I thought the adrenaline was very high and I thought the discipline level was very low."
That's typical for the first day with live tackling each year, said McCarthy. But he'd like to curb the team's enthusiasm, so to speak, or at least rein it in, channel it into the proper outlet. There was was too much "extra curricular activity going on," said the Packers head coach.
Bringing a little extra energy to the game of football isn't necessarily a bad thing, and one of the players expected to revitalize the Packers defense and make it more physical is first round draft choice Datone Jones.
"We're true competitors, and if you're a true competitor, it's going to happen. You're going to get in a scuffle, because you don't want anyone getting the best of you," said Jones after practice.
Jones acquitted himself well as the pads came on for the first time at training camp, according to McCarthy. The first two days were spent in helmets and shells, and it's difficult to get a gauge on any player until the hitting starts.
But it soon became apparent why the Packers spent the 26th overall selection on the defensive lineman out of UCLA.
"(Jones) definitely carries his pads," said McCarthy. "That's one thing I look for the first time we're in pads. Everybody's different, everybody's built differently as far as where players are in their career and so forth, and you look at the way players carry their pads, and the way they move compared to pads and when they're running around in helmets.
"So I thought Datone looked very good, very comfortable. He's in good shape, and I thought he had a good first day just from what I saw."
The Packers defense made major strides since finishing dead last in the NFL in total yards allowed in 2011, including the most passing yards in league history.
A jump was made from 32nd to 11th in overall defense in 2012, but the Packers run defense was still lacking. Performances from Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick still sting.
Likewise, there was little in the way of a pass rush from anyone not named Clay Matthews. Jones was brought in to remedy the unfortunate predicament in which the Packers defense finds itself.
On Sunday, Jones was out to show he's no softie.
"I'm just trying to show what I can do," said Jones. "I can be very aggressive. I'm not just a finesse guy. I'm a strong guy. I can be physical when it comes to pass rushing, so I wanted to show my coach what I could do and make sure I have fun."
The coaching staff would appear to be bringing Jones along slowly, getting a lot of work in the defense's subpackage defense in the early going.
As far as the team's base 3-4 defense goes, Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported from practice, "CJ Wilson is still ahead of Datone Jones at DE. Jones is working a lot in nickel. But he does get DE reps."
It's a classic case of the Packers not wanting to overload a rookie too early. More than likely, Jones' role will evolve and expand as he becomes more comfortable and more versed in defensive coordinator Dom Capers' schemes.
The Packers spend more time in their nickel defense than the base anyway, so there will be plenty of chances for Jones to make an impact.
For the moment being, Jones is just out on the field trying to prove himself and show he can make the Packers defense more physical, more attacking. The first day in pads was the perfect opportunity for him to display his wares.
"Guys finally get a chance to release that extra, that little anger they've got building up," said Jones. "Everybody's testosterone is building up. We're just having fun, you know?"
McCarthy knows exactly what Jones is talking about. The Packers head coach just wants his players to be disciplined as well as aggressive.
The hitting for Jones and the rest of the Packers continues this week. They have a day off to rest on Monday, but they're back for five straight practices with pads, concluding in Saturday's annual Family Night scrimmage.
In today's NFL, five straight days of padded practices is a rarity. But for the Packers defense, it's the beginning of what they hope is a change in identity from a year ago.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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