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Kevin Greene Has His Work Cut Out for Him with Young Outside Linebackers

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Kevin Greene Has His Work Cut Out for Him with Young Outside Linebackers

Packers outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene. Photo by Corey Behnke of CheeseheadTV.com.

As the Packers concluded their three-day rookie minicamp on Sunday, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy reflected upon the youth of the outside linebackers in Green Bay and remarked upon the job assistant coach Kevin Greene  has done developing talent at the position.

"You have to give a lot of credit to Kevin Greene," said McCarthy during a press conference. "I'm not trying to disrespect the other coaches. I mean, you're talking about a man that played the position at a very high level in this defense. There's a ton of expertise that goes into that position being taught on a daily basis, and I think it's been reflected in his time here."

Green Bay has been Greene's first stop as a coach in the NFL after a prolific playing career that has seen him named to multiple Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams and rack up 160 career sacks as a member of the Rams, Steelers, Panthers and 49ers.

Greene came to Green Bay as part of the defensive coaching staff overhaul following the 2008 season when previous coordinator Bob Sanders and several other assistant coaches were fired.

Under new defensive coordinator Dom Capers, Greene has been mentoring the outside linebackers ever since.

Perhaps Greene's biggest success story has been Clay Matthews, who just recently signed a five-year, $66 million contract extension that made him the highest-paid linebacker in professional football.

The transformation for Matthews has been stunning, going from walk-on status during his college days at USC to part-time starter as late as his senior season. But since being drafted by Green Bay in 2009, Matthews has notched 42.5 sacks and been named to the Pro Bowl each of his four seasons in the NFL.

But as the outside linebacker position in Green Bay stands today, Matthews is the only player with more than one year of professional experience. Joining him are a group of largely raw youngsters Greene will have to mold into significant contributors.

Quite frequently, Greene is charged with the unique assignment of converting college defensive ends into standup outside linebackers.

"I think the outside linebacker position definitely requires a certain body type and skill set there," said McCarthy.

Such was the case last year with first round draft choice Nick Perry, an athletic defensive end at USC. His rookie season was cut short by a wrist injury that landed him on injured reserve, and at this point in his development, Perry still has a lot of prove.

Also in the mix is Dezman Moses, the player who went from going undrafted to becoming part of the Packers defense last season, albeit not in a starting role.

Beyond Perry and Moses, both of whom are entering merely their second years in professional football, are a handful of rookies, none of whom were highly-regarded college prospects.

In the sixth round of the NFL Draft, the Packers took Nate Palmer of FCS level Illinois State, another defensive end whose background was playing in three-point stance.

"I'm pretty open," Palmer told the local media this past weekend about a position switch. "I'm open to anything. I just want to get the chance to play and play special teams and do whatever it takes to help the team."

Palmer finds himself in a pretty good place to make the team's roster as, essentially, the fourth player on the depth chart at outside linebacker.

He'll be competing with Montreal native Andy Mulumba of Eastern Michigan who was  recently made the No. 2 overall choice in the Canadian Football League draft.

"I definitely like these two young guys and maybe a couple other guys too that (Greene will) have the opportunity to work with," said McCarthy.

Among the "couple other guys" is Donte Savage of New Mexico State whom the Packers reportedly signed after he participated in rookie orientation camp on a tryout basis.

Because of the lack of experience at outside linebacker, it's perhaps possible Brad Jones, Jamari Lattimore or Rob Francois will go back to providing depth at the position they once played in the past.

To be sure, the cupboard isn't bare at outside linebacker in Green Bay, but Greene has a tall task ahead of him.

Clay Matthews represents a pretty good cornerstone for Greene to build the rest of his little outside linebacker empire. Fans can only hope the rest of the construction is made with blocks of granite and not a deck of cards.

Brian Carriveau is the author of "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 carriveau@uwalumni.com.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (28) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

ted, of bill and ted's picture

if there's anything in a name, donte savage will be a great linebacker

BTF's picture

Must admit OLB was one area I'd have like to see us address in the draft perhaps in round 3-4 though I'll admit I don't have the knowledge to see if there were any realistic options there.

I like Perry I think if he stays healthy he'll make a big impact, on Matthews numbers if nothing else, but with OLB a position that should be key in the Capers 3-4 I think we are betting a lot on Moses developing and either Palmer or an UDFA being able to contribute adequately as Moses did last year, I'd be happier with more depth personally but I suppose that's one of the beauties of the NFL system. You can't cover everywhere...

Hank Scorpio's picture

Matthews aside, poor LB play (inside and outside) was a big Achilles heel last year, IMO.

They need at least 2 guys to perform at a higher level than what they were getting in Dec/Jan of last year. And they need to do it with no significant player additions this offseason. The Packers preach player development. Nowhere is that more important this offseason than with the LBs.

We'll see how it all works out. But LB is definitely my biggest concern on the roster. Especially after drafting the 2 RBs and flipping the OL left-right

cow42's picture

I would suggest that getting Bishop and Perry back might qualify as "significant player additions"

Even though Perry was splitting time with Walden you have to figure he's gonna end up being a better player than that stiff.

Sure hope Bishop can come back and be even 75% of what he was pre-injury... although I could see him as a surprise cut.

Other vets who better watch their backs...

Quarless
DJ Williams
T Williams
Newhouse
Wilson
Kuhn
Starks
Green
Bush
Harrell

and here's one way out on a limb... Lang (although this would probably involve swallowing a fairly significant chunk of change).

Hank Scorpio's picture

If Bishop can return to form and Perry can develop beyond what he was in year 1 of a DE to LB conversion, it sure would go a long way towards easing my concerns. It would probably solve them.

I reckon we'll find out in about 4-5 months. Hopefully it is just me being a worry wart.

Kevin VG's picture

Cow42, I have to agree with everyone you mentioned above that should be on notice come training camp (and OTAs to a degree). But I have no idea of cap money saved/lost with those you have mentioned and I think that may play a role in whether they are kept or cut. I find it interesting that you put Lang and Bishop as possible "surprise" cuts, but I have to agree that there is a possibility that they are not on the 53-man roster this year. Of course, it also means that some of the younger players are really stepping up to the challenge and that's always a good thing!

Mike's picture

One to watch for: should House stay healthy, Hayward improve even more and Shields get extended and continue his physical play, don't be surprised if we hear Tramon being shopped around for future pick(s). I think the guys that TT has brought in as UDFA - Nixon and Smith - are intriguing talents.

Stroh's picture

I don't see Tramon being moved or released. IMO, they will give him this year to see if his shoulder is 100% compared to his '10 levels. He showed more improvement last year from '11 and should continue to get better. He was still the #1 CB last year and had the responsibility of matching up w/ opponents #1 WR weekly. None of the other CB's has shown that ability as yet. In todays NFL you need as many CB's as you can find w/ the ability to cover. The Packers would be down to 3 unproven CB's covering #1 WR's. Even if one of them showed the ability to cover #1 WR, that wouldn't mean they have passed Williams on the depth chart, just matched him. I can't see any way the Packers would move or release Tramon. I see him playing this year before the Packers would trade/release him. Beyond this year, I would consider it likely they move or release him, but not in '13.

perrin's picture

I agree with you on this one, Mike. One year later and I have Shields as our number one man-to-man corner, Hayward as our best zone-cover, and Davon House is the most-physical/best-tackling corner(not counting Jarrett Bush/NEVER counting Jarrett Bush). Without help from Woodson when he was coming off that MVP season, Tramon proved himself to be a liability on the outside over the past 2 seasons. After this season, ehen Shields and Hayward DEF pass him on the depth chart, he wont be as valuable on the trade market. Not that I advocate for it but, if he wasn't on the team @ the start of the year, especially while needing money to extend Raji, Burnett, Finley, Jones,EDS(maybe), etc., I wouldn't bat an eye.

dawg's picture

Other than CM3, the entire LB crew, inside and out, need to step up!
PERRY is the 64,000 dollar question mark ?!
Coach Green/ Moss and draft choices need to bring it up, speed.
Not sure where Bishop and Hawk fair in this pistol grouping. Too slow.

Lucky953's picture

Paying for Brad Jones suggests a lot of doubt about Bishop coming back healthy. Is it possible that Hawk has lost another half a step? we're going to get carved open by RBs over the middle. however, if Kevin Greene is as good as MM says, then Perry will be a significant upgrade over Walden this year. The guy is a far more gifted athlete. It's the third OLB that I worry about. Dezman Moses has not inspired confidence.

dawg's picture

Luck, agreed, But I don't see any inside help!

dawg's picture

Moss and Green both have big tasks in the up coming season!
Green somehow has to motivate Perry, a first round draft choice, OLB, who didn't want to play where he's at, and injured, to play motivated!
Moss has to deal with two ageing vets, ILB, one who's coming off a major injury and the other who's lost a step!, to play fast!
SORRY--Front seven worry some.
Bring in the Draft Class

Stroh's picture

Perry never said he didn't want to play 34 OLB. He simply said when asked if he had a preference, that he would rather play DE. The difference is substantial! Its not surprising an athlete would PREFER to stay at the position he excelled at in college. That in no way equates to him not wanting or being willing to play 34 OLB. He was asked his preference and he answered honestly. Nothing more or less! He didn't say he didn't want to be a 34 OLB!

Oppy's picture

Where do you get the idea that Perry wasn't playing with motivation last season?

Perry looked pretty good for a guy who's head was probably spinning trying to read his keys and make the correct assignment adjustments. He's now been in the defense for a year.. I completely expect him to surprise Pack fans this year.

Shawn's picture

I completely expect Perry to look very slow and lost when trying to cover in the flat. Some of the kids we draft in the later rounds that play LB or Safety in college look lost trying to cover good TE's in the NFL. How do you expect a DE to pick it up in one year?

Lou's picture

I still believe that the D-Line is their weakest link with OLB number 2 now that they have added quality/quantity at RB. Raji can't play near that many snaps, Pickett has been amazingly consistent but at the age like Woodson where the drop off can be immediate and Wilson is one-dimensional. If Perry plays to his ability they could have the best bookend LB's since Robinson and Caffee. Like many have stated, when your number 3 OLB (Moses) has minimal talent/experience and your prior number 3 (Walden) who started most of the year is gone (thank God) the cupboard as far as experience is bare. Greene did a fabulous job with Zombo in his rookie year and he needs to do that again with the young guys that step up this season. It appears the talent is there but the question is how soon it can translate to production.

Cole's picture

I still can't believe the contract Walden got.

TommyG's picture

I bet he can't either.

Oppy's picture

Colts fans are going to be saying in week 3 "I can't believe the deal we got on this Erik Walden guy, what a monster!!"

... And by week 9 they'll be asking for a refund on his contract.

Lars's picture

Outside of guys like CM 3 who actually played the position in college, Greene ALWAYS has his work cut out for him trying to covert fast, but stiff one trick DE's like Perry into NFL OLB'ers who can drop ointo converage and play standing up. It's one of the weaknesses in the 3/4 scheme and why we end up seeing true tweeners like Walden playing for years at the position. Perry is a 4/3 DE.

Lou's picture

I agree, not only is Perry a 4/3 DE he could be the next Julius Peppers based on his talent level. Look at the production Aaron Kampmann had, he was not much bigger if at all than Perry and had no where near the overall athletic ability. However, Thompson and Greene believe he can make the change, if you remember they tried to do the same thing with Kampmann and he like Perry indicated they would rather play with a hand on the ground. Time will tell.

Oppy's picture

The unpopular truth about Kampman's conversion to OLB is this:

He was doing a fine job as an OLB.

He LOOKED awkward in coverage, but he rarely gave up significant completions.

He wasn't getting SACKS but he was leading the league in QB HITS AND HURRIES.

He was still racking up run stops.

Kampman didn't like it, but none the less, it wasn't the failure that many fans tried to make it out to be. He didn't have the sexy stat (Sacks), but for a career 4-3 DE(with limited athleticism, as you pointed out), he was doing a good job of transitioning to 3-4 OLB.

Oppy's picture

I still think if a big-budget hollywood film gets made about General Custer, they should seriously consider calling Kevin Greene for the lead role.

Lou's picture

Agree on Kampmann, time was what he needed. He was one of the classiest Packers, much like John Anderson, what a shame he had a 2nd ACL. On playing Custer, my vote is for Jerry Jones, a General is like a GM.

al's picture

i hope thats a joke hes one of the best LB ever too play the game when he was a steeler he will be head couch some were soon bet tat !!!!!!!! com on man he trained clay mattews thats why packer drafted young LB because thay no hell be gone one day .

Weezie's picture

Kevin will get the job done ! I loved him when he played, what a beast, and no matter who he gets he will bring the beast out in them,

al's picture

wish kevin green could still play he was the best lb steelers ever had ..................

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