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 email@example.com.