One of the interesting story line early in the 2010 season for the Packers was the limited role of A.J. Hawk. Oh he was still the "starter," but only played a handful of plays in the first few games of the season. Due to the talent at ILB that year, and the rise of Brandon Chillar, Hawk was relegated to the base defense but not the nickel sub-packages. Now eventually injuries happened, Hawk's play increased, and the rest is history. The story does highlight an interesting dynamic of the Packers defense since the great switch to the 3-4; the tension between the nickel and the base.
Now I could go on and on about the changing of the NFL, the rise of three receiver sets, and the complementary pieces of a strong pass defense with a strong pass offense. All of these are important factors that probably already know and have heard about endlessly over the past couple years. The interesting thing that I find about this dichotomy is that the Packer personnel seems to be split in personnel between who fits well in the base and who fits well in the Dom Capers signature 2-4-5 nickel alignment.
As training camp continues this split personality of the Packers defense should affect the roles of many of your favorite players and may provide an opening for a player desperately trying to make a roster spot. Adding to this dynamic are comments by Mike McCarthy stating he wants to play the base defense more than in years past and the high profile move of Charles Woodson. Look for more balance from the two two sides of the defense this year and look for some interesting specialization from our defensive players.
The starting base defense so far in camp:
S: Morgan Burnett, Charles Woodson
Notes - The only name that I expect to change on this is Smith, who should be replaced by Desmond Bishop once he is healthy. Other than that this should stay pretty static, although Wilson could be in for a fight at his position as well. Really Wilson might be the biggest beneficiary of this split. He's pretty good about holding the line, but not a great pass rusher. He works well in the base defense, but would probably struggle in the nickel 2-4-5 set.
The stating 2-4-5 defense so far in camp:
DL: Jerel Worthy, B.J. Raji
LB: Clay Matthews, A.J. Hawk, D.J. Smith, Nick Perry
CB: Tramon Williams, Davon House, Charles Woodson
S: Morgan Burnett, M.D. Jennings
Notes - One of the things I am looking forward to seeing once Bishop gets back is who is going into a back up role in this particular set. While D.J. Smith is technically the backup to Bishop, he is probably better in coverage than Hawk. It wouldn't also be apart from what has happened in the past to bench Hawk in this package for a faster LB who is better in coverage.
It will be interesting to see how these two defense styles can be used together and the specialists of each alignment (PIckett, Wilson, Jennings, and possibly Smith) do with their opportunities on the field.
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