Everyone on the defense seems happy with the 3-4—except Aaron Kampman.
Much has been made about Aaron Kampman’s lack of enthusiasm for the switch from the 4-3 defense to the 3-4. For months, he made no public statement about the switch, which was noteworthy for a player who has always been media-friendly. Then when he finally did speak about it last week, he gave short, chippy answers to reporters’ questions, which only served to heighten speculation about his feelings toward the new defensive scheme. Some people will say that this is just another example of the media trying to create a story where one does not really exist. But I think there is a story here, and it does bear watching, although as of right now, it is far from a major concern.
What stands out most about Kampman’s chilly attitude toward the 3-4 is that there are other players who appear to have much more reason to dislike it, yet they all appear to be supportive of the change. Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk are being moved to ILB positions where they may be undersized and may have fewer chances to make big plays. Yet Barnett has publicly embraced the new scheme even as he has admitted that it will be a major adjustment for him. He has pointed out how he has flourished in every scheme he has been in, so he’s not afraid of this one. It is expected that Al Harris will be asked to play away from his strength as a man-to-man coverage specialist and play much more zone in the 3-4. Yet Harris has scoffed at the notion that this will be a problem for him, stating that he can play zone just fine.
Meanwhile, on the defensive line, the two players who have the most to lose are Ryan Pickett and Cullen Jenkins. Pickett now has to play nose tackle, a position that he admits he has never played in his life, but he has been all smiles about it nonetheless, and he also has not shown any disappointment about the fact that the Packers probably just drafted his future replacement in B.J. Raji. Jenkins faces a transition to the thankless position of 3-4 DE, where he is likely to have far fewer sack opportunities, as he will be asked to eat up blockers and hold the point of attack, more like a DT. In spite of this, Jenkins has remained politically correct about the switch, saying that he will do whatever is best for the team.
Which brings us to Kampman. As a 3-4 OLB, he is likely to have even more shots at opposing QB’s than he did as a 4-3 DE. And he’s coming off a season in which he was reduced to single-digit sacks in a defensive scheme that seemed increasingly outdated. So what’s eating at him? Allow me to make a couple of guesses.
First, I think Kampman takes great pride in his workmanlike approach to the game. He made his name as a run stopper before he became an elite pass rusher, and I suspect that he still sees himself as a player who stops the run first and rushes the passer second. Kampman is, above all else, a SOLID player, just as he appears to be a very solid guy off the field. The flashiness of the OLB position most likely holds no appeal for him at all. His skill set may be somewhat similar to Kevin Greene’s, but try to picture Kampman with long flowing hair and a post-NFL stint as a pro wrestler, and it becomes easier to understand why the playmaking OLB position may not be such a great fit for him in terms of style and personality.
Also, there is the obvious fact that Kampman has been a wildly successful player for the Packers. He has had the longest run of high quality play of anyone on our defense, and his character and leadership are beyond reproach. Kampman’s success means that there is a strong element of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” in his attitude toward the defensive switch. This is especially true as he enters the final year of his contract. Financial uncertainty is always a factor in a contract year, and a change of position only adds to the uncertainty. We may laugh about it because of all the money these guys make, but all things are relative. Everyone compares himself to his peers.
So considering that Kampman has not yet embraced his new role in the defense, are there any other options for him? Moving him to DE seems unlikely, as it would probably not be the best use of his talents, and he may be no happier as a 3-4 DE than a 3-4 OLB anyway. A trade also seems unlikely, as it is difficult to trade players who are earning high salaries, and Kampman is so good and so reliable that you would hate to let him go for any price. It is interesting that Julius Peppers of Carolina is a 4-3 DE who wants to go to another team so he can become a 3-4 OLB, but I’m guessing that the logistics of such a trade would be incredibly complicated, considering Peppers’ contract situation.
The solution to Kampman’s dilemma most likely lies with Kampman himself. He needs to reinvent the OLB position to suit his personality and style of play. He is not Kevin Greene. And he is not Lawrence Taylor. He needs to find a way to bring his blue-collar attitude to the OLB position. It will not be easy. He’s been playing with his hand on the ground at least since his college days. Playing in space and patrolling the passing lanes on some plays may not be his forte. But the reality is that these responsibilities are now every bit as important for him as mixing it up with opposing linemen. And I’m betting that Kampman has the maturity and work ethic to figure this out and excel in his new role. It’s only football, after all.
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