Ever since the purge of defensive coaches resulted in the hire of Dom Capers and the installation of the 3-4 scheme, the Green Bay defense has been in a state of flux. The entire conversion process figured to be a considerable headache, defensive position battles took on a whole new meaning, but most importantly, the decision regarding Green Bay's best front seven defender became the lynchpin of the switch.
Aaron Kampman is an outside linebacker now, according to his Packers.com bio, but whether he is in real life remains to be seen. Was it a good idea to turn a Pro Bowl DE into a 3-4 linbacker? Many of us were worried about the the change; Brandon said it best:
I'm not in favor of moving Kampman from a position where he's great to one where he might struggle whenever he's asked to do anything except rush the QB. I'm all in favor of change along the defensive front seven, but this seems wrong.
That was back in February. It's now June. Let's take a look at what might be the most overlooked storyline of the offseason.
Kampman, the high-motor, hard-working, "overachiever" has left his mark on the NFL during his 7 season career. The two-time Pro Bowler has registered 50 sacks since 2003, all of them from the strong-side DE position. But he was not always on the line.
At Aplington-Parkersburg High School in Iowa, Kampman was an All-American linebacker. At the University of Iowa, Kampman played 20 games at linebacker over his first two years. It wasn't until 2000 where, more out of necessity than opportunity, the Iowa coaches moved Kampman to defensive end. Kampman was still productive for a positively awful Iowa team, making most think that defensive end was a more natural position for him.
It's perfectly reasonable to assume that, after nearly a decade at defensive end, Kampman has made it his natural position. After all, he had beefed himself up to 285 in college in order to make the switch, and his production (both collegiate and professional) has been far beyond projections.
However, there are certain details that question this argument. First off, there's his official weight, which is now listed as 265. Not only is this nearly 20 pounds lighter than his playing weight last year, but it's the ideal size for a 6'4" linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. By extension, the weight loss will increase Kampman's speed and agility, as the mucsles have less mass to work with.
Beyond measurables, the scouting report on Kampman from last season makes it seem like he was a linebacker playing out of position. According to ESPN.com's Scout's Inc. (the words are theirs, the emphasis is mine):
He is somewhat undersized and will struggle at times to hold the edge, while disengaging and getting off blocks when teams attack him. However, he does have strong hands and plays with a consistent pad level, which allows him to maintain good control at the point of attack. He can be very disruptive when attacking upfield gaps on the move. He has good range, the ability to close off the backside and make plays in pursuit. He is an explosive player off the line of scrimmage with very good anticipation when rushing the passer. He has a variety of pass-rush moves with the speed and quickness to bend the edge and close on the quarterback.
Remember, this analysis was made prior to the 2008 season, when Kampman was still a DE. Notice how many of the phrases can fit both a 4-3 DE and a 3-4 OLB. This profile highlight's Kampman's size issues at DE while praising his motor, his range, and his versatility. If Kampman was an elite player at a position his body may not be a great fit for, imagine the production he'll have at a lower weight and a more versatile position.
Mike McCarthy sure thinks it'll work. While he hasn't given anything more than pure vanilla in terms of media sound bites, he's 100 percent sure that the 3-4 and Aaron Kampman is a solid combination.
"I think this defense is going to help Aaron Kampman," McCarthy said. "I think there is always a hesitancy when you are asked to do something different. Aaron was very comfortable in the old scheme, but I think this is going to create more opportunities for him."
Ah, there's the rub. What does Aaron Kampman think of the switch? If you ask him, the answer is absolutely...nothing. No, really, he simply hasn't said anything about it. What an unhappy camper. As ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert notes,
Throughout the entire interview, I don't think Kampman said anything that could be construed as an opinion or an expression of feeling. He never said he was upset and he never said he was happy.
So what does that mean? Obviously, a player who has grown accustomed to a position where he enjoyed success doesn't want to make a switch from that position. It's not like when Troy Vincent switched from cornerback to safety; his athleticism had dropped off to the point where he couldn't play effectively anymore, but his experience and his knowledge made his presence on the field a must. We might see this process with Charles Woodson in the future. But Kampman can still play DE at a high level for a long time, and he knows he can, which is what I believe is the source of his hesitance to readily accept the switch.
Personally, I'm torn. I have the utmost faith in Kampman's natural abilities and ameteur experience at linebacker. What's more, I think that the addition of Kevin Greene to the coaching staff will be the deciding factor in Kampman's transition. However, no amount of coaching can undo ten years of repetition in one offseason. Were this switch made three years ago, I would absolutely support it. But Kampman's almost 30. Can you turn a 29-year old All-Pro defensive end into a 30-year old All-Pro rush linebacker?