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Point of Veau: Ushering in the Era of the Part-Time Defensive Specialist

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Point of Veau: Ushering in the Era of the Part-Time Defensive Specialist

The philosophy of using part-time players in the game of football is nothing new.

On the whole, there are increasingly fewer three-down players in the NFL who play the game from start to finish. Quarterbacks do it if they're good enough. Offensive linemen typically play an entire game. So do certain members of the defensive secondary.

There's always a few more exceptions to the rule––many linebackers stay on the field––but other football players are constantly rotated in and out of the game. Wide receivers and tight ends are used like pieces on a chess board. The third-down running back has become a niche role.

On defense, mammoth defensive linemen are shuffled in and out to stay fresh. And the nickel and dime packages that have been used for decades try to get more cover guys on the field at the expense of extra linemen.

But with the NFL becoming increasingly more and more pass oriented every year with more three, four and even five wide receiver sets, it appears as if it's time for defenses to adapt as well.

I've hypothesized about the Packers running some sort of hybrid 3-4/4-3 defense this season based upon their signings of 4-3 type defensive linemen Tony Hargrove and Daniel Muir as well as their interest in 4-3 end Dave Tollefson.

It's very possible the Packers could run some sort of hybrid or 4-3 schemes in 2012, but by taking a closer look at some of the players they drafted, maybe they're considering more situational players. Head coach Mike McCarthy hinted as much in his Sunday press conference.

"I think it will give us more versatility in how we play defense as far as the different defensive personnel groups, playing maybe more people than we did in the past," said McCarthy. "The fact that we did score so many points quite often put stresses on our defense that we had not had before. That's something that we spend a lot of time looking as a coaching staff.

"We feel like we could do a better job of being more creative in utilizing our personnel in the subpackages. The ability to get more athletic, and the ability to have more pass rush from both the inside and outside players on the defense was a focus. And I think that's reflected with the people we've acquired both in free agency and the Draft."

You saw the Packers make a bold move in the divisional round playoff game against the Giants earlier this year when they played Jarrett Bush at cornerback on early downs to take advantage of his aggressiveness and tackling ability and Sam Shields on late downs for his speed and coverage. That might have been the tip of the iceberg.

Two players from the Draft in particular seem suited for part-time, specialist roles, especially early in their careers: Iowa defensive lineman Mike Daniels and North Carolina State linebacker Terrell Manning. Both played in 4-3 schemes in college.

At 6-0 and 291 pounds, Daniels doesn't have the ideal size and bulk to hold up against the run in the base 3-4 defense. But he does have the quickness to become a penetrator and a disruptive force on the pass rush.

It's difficult to imagine Daniels being ever being used––or at least very sparingly––in the base 3-4 for the Packers. But when they go to their nickel subpackage, he would seem like an ideal candidate to slide inside to create some havoc in the opponents' offensive backfield.

As for Manning, he played weak-side linebacker in a 4-3 scheme off the line of scrimmage at N.C. State. But more than likely he'll have to become an inside linebacker in defensive coordinator Dom Capers' system.

What Manning brings to the table is athleticism and hustle, the ability to make plays from sideline to sideline with his quickness.

While Desmond Bishop, A.J. Hawk and D.J. Smith are all "thumpers" at inside linebacker, Manning is the type of player who could be brought in on passing downs in order to utilize that athletcism.

Fans have seen Hawk and Bishop get exposed in coverage by having to cover bigger receivers and faster running backs, but Manning would be ideally suited to run with them.

And when not in coverage, it's easy to envision Manning being used on the blitz, whether from the outside or up the gut.

I also think Jerel Worthy will also be used as a pass-rush specialist early in his career, although I think he has the versatility to be a three-down player like B.J. Raji in time.

Take those moves in the Draft into consideration along with the speculation that Charles Woodson could be moved to safety, and you could see a fair amount of subpackage players with speciality roles.

Woodson is still very effective defending from the slot, but will the Packers be comfortable with him on the perimeter in the base 3-4? Could he play safety in base and slot in subpackages?

That could open up a role for rookie Jerron McMillian, for example, to ease into a more prominent role by playing primarily on passing downs this season while not having the pressure of being a full-time player.

No one is saying this is all is going to happen. At this point, it's mere speculation.

But the possibilities are intriguing.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (22) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

FootballGods's picture

Hargrove suspended 8 flipping games? Hell

Roy's picture

If Hargrove has an 8 game suspension, does
he have to serve as part of the 53 man roster for 8 games, or can he just watch 8 games in civilian cloths not on the 53
man game roster?

Jersey Al's picture

not does not count against the roster and loses almost $400k of salary - pending appeals, of course

Ebongreen's picture


It was clear to me from the draft and the free-agent signings that the Packers may, at this point, consider the 2-4-5 nickel as their "base" defense. I'm pretty sure there were several games last year where they played no 3-4 downs at all, so the change has been in the works for a while. In the traditions of actions speaking louder than words, they have fairly loudly said, "Hey, 3-4 is a formality: in the NFL as a pass-first league, we're gonna bring it in the 2-4-5."

At the very least, it's a one-gap 3-4 style rather than a two-gap, since neither Hargrove nor Daniels has the build or strength to play a two-gap style.

tl;dr: ITA. The offseason has been all about pass rush, pass rush, and pass rush from base, nickel or dime.

Woodson4president's picture

What about Hayward? Obviously if they traded up to get a corner that early he is going to play a big part in our scheme. I think he will be our rookie of the year!

Chad Toporski's picture

Capers has brought Desmond Bishop on pass rushes off the edge before. No reason to think he couldn't do that with a guy like Manning.

pkrNboro's picture

"And the nickel and dime packages that have been used for decades try to get more cover guys on the field at the expense of extra linemen."

IMO, since you used the word "decades," I think the more historical approach to nickel and dime packages saw them subbing out linebackers, instead of linemen.

But these days... anything goes.

packsmack25's picture

I don't think Capers will ever venture outside of his current playbook, but I certainly see him focusing more on the nickel and dime packages when it comes to tweaks and personnel arrangements.

pkrNboro's picture

Weeks ago, after hearing that Perry preferred a "hand in the dirt," I soured on him being our first selection. I thought he might have a bad attitude, or would be hard to coach. I was neutral-to-disappointed that he was our pick at 28, as I didn't see him as the prototypical 3-4 OLB -- even though he was likely the best player at 28th, and possibly worth a higher selection.

But I've since changed my mind.

I think Perry will be utilized according to his strengths and that his coverage responsibilities/obligations will follow, when he's ready for them.

Years ago, a guy told George Constanza:
"You're livin' in the past, man. You're hung up on some clown from the sixties, man!"

I, too, was hung up. But no longer.

We've seen the nickel more than the base, for years now. We've heard Capers say that you've got to adjust and match-up with what the offense throws at you.

It's not a 4-3, or 3-4 world anymore.
It's all about match-ups. And if you can't match-up, you've got to hope that your best defensive players offset your opponent's best offensive players.

God help you if you're mismatched and they run no-huddle!

I don't care what the Packers run. I just hope the best athletes, the best football players, are on the field. I'm not gonna be "livin' in the past, man"

MarkinMadison's picture

I can't find anything to disagree with in this post. I think what will be interesting is to see how the roster spots shake out. Will there be more DL this year, or just different ones?

PackersRS's picture

We all miss Bozo man. We all miss him. It's time to move on.

Otto's picture

I read Capers' comments, too. It's interesting because they are in direct conflict with what MM has stated this off-season. He wants more base 3-4 and have the defense dictate to the offense what they can run instead of having the offense dictate to the defense. I've seen both ways work, but the only time the defense is successful at dictating to the offense is when the D is REALLY good.

Don Hutson's picture

Will we see the return of the running game if defences get too cute?

PackersRS's picture

People are inspired today, so it seems. Great take, Brian, noting the use of Bush and Shields early on, and incorporating MM's presser. Great take.

marcopo's picture

I felt I was reading my own preaching. All NFL defenses are behind the curve. I totally agree that we're about to witness hybrid defense in which the distinctions become more fluid. But it starts with pressure, especially, inside pressure. But understand, the packages have to be flexible because offense can go no huddle. Ask how you would defend Rodgers and you are on the right road.

marcopo's picture

It's easy to say "it's about matchups". That just rolls off the tongue. The reality is teams don't have enough skilled defenders to "matchup" and doubtfully ever will. So you must attack the quarterback. Do everything possible to make his life miserable and hurried. Best way is to push the pocket right into the sob. Force him into the edge, force hurries. You don't need sacks, you need pocket pushing pressure. The Packers had zero inside pressure and zero ability to get inside pressure last year. Now this draft makes perfect sense.

PackersRS's picture

Hurries and QB hits. The advanced stat sites keep track of that, I bet the coaches do too.

Bohj's picture

Totally agree. I get a bit uncomfortable with the amount of nickel. If there's no pressure, you can put all the d-backs in the world out there and a good qb will still find an open guy after 6 seconds. Wide receivers will always be a more favorable matchup because they are generally more athletic and have the advantage of knowing the route. The best d is the one that gets after the qb. Period. The best d's in the league have the best pressure guys, not the best corners. Steelers, ravens, giants, niners. Looks like our draft is emulating that.

As far as this guy is a fit here or there.... It's all smoke and
mirrors. Lamar woodley was a 4-3 defensive end at Michigan with very limited snaps at linebacker. You think the steelers style of 3-4 cares about that now? You draft the guy for his athleticism and your staff turns him into a beast in his new role. McCarthy always says we draft football players. Yup.

Idiot Fan's picture

I swear I remember MM saying, shortly after the end of the season, something like, "we played too much nickle this year. We need to play more of our base defense." Or something like that. Anyone else remember that, or am I going crazy?

marcopo's picture

We did play too much nickle, but the problem was we had NO inside push, therefore options were limited.

packsmack25's picture

Perhaps he meant that the nickle was ineffective, so teams tried to get us into that set. Improved play in the nickle would naturally lead to teams attempting to attack us there less.

Otto's picture

I do remember MM saying that (and I just quoted that in a reply above). He wants the D to dictate to the O what they can do. The only way to do that is to be able to pressure the QB on every down.
As I look at this draft/FA, it looks like they want to be able to bring pressure from every level of the defense. From the line (Hargrove, Worthy, Daniels), from the LB (Perry @ OLB and Manning @ ILB). I can even see Hayward and McMillian bringing heat as they are fast and they are both hitters.
It sure gives you options when you can bring pressure from anywhere on the field (unlike last year when it was CM3 or nothing).

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