GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) Pleased with the Packers’ draft, coach Mike McCarthy made a confident proclamation. Engrave it into the side of a foam cheesehead in large, green-and-gold type.
”We’re going to be a better defense this year,” McCarthy said. ”You can write that in big letters.”
A glimpse at potential reinforcements comes Friday, when the team opens a two-day rookie minicamp. Green Bay took four defensive players in the NFL draft, starting with safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix from Alabama in the first round.
The selection of Clinton-Dix with the 21st overall pick filled one of the most pressing needs on a defense that sagged as the 2013 season progressed. The Packers finished 25th in the league (372.2 yards per game).
In a perfect scenario for Green Bay, Clinton-Dix would be a playmaker needed at safety, a position at which the Packers failed to get an interception last year.
”I play fast, I’m a great tackler,” Clinton-Dix said after getting drafted last week. ”Once I learn the system, learn the entire defense and get comfortable, I think I’ll be fine.”
He’s already been assigned a jersey number that comes with some pedigree – No. 21, worn by Charles Woodson when he was making big plays in the secondary in Green Bay.
”They picked it for me, you know it’s a good number to have so I’m going to wear it with pride,” Clinton-Dix said.
Other defensive players drafted by the Packers were lineman Khyri Thornton in the third round from Southern Mississippi; linebacker Carl Bradford in the fourth from Arizona State; and cornerback Demetri Goodson in the sixth out of Baylor.
On offense, fifth-round pick Jared Abbrederis – a receiver from Wisconsin who stayed in state to play college ball with the Badgers – signed his contract, his agent, Rick Smith, confirmed Wednesday.
The team announced the signing Wednesday of another receiver, seventh-round selection Jeff Janis from Saginaw Valley State; and undrafted rookie free agent OT John Fullington from Washington State. James Nixon was cut after the reserve cornerback failed a physical.
The biggest splash in free agency came with the addition of defensive end-linebacker Julius Peppers as a pass-rushing complement to Clay Matthews. Besides the drafting of Thornton up front, the Packers also re-signed B.J. Raji and added free agent Letroy Guion at tackle.
That leaves the returns of veteran linemen Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly in question. Jolly suffered a season-ending neck injury during the Packers’ 37-36 win over Dallas on Dec. 15.
McCarthy said he’s stayed in contact with the team doctor about the recoveries of Jolly and tight end Jermichael Finley, a free agent who suffered a season-ending spinal injury.
”First and foremost, I just want them to be healthy. And then with that, they’re obviously our players and we have strong interest in,” McCarthy said. ”We’ll see what happens after that.”
Jolly’s agent, Jack Bechta, said Wednesday the lineman had been cleared for all workouts as of three weeks ago.
According to general manager Ted Thompson, the team’s moves so far don’t necessarily correlate to how they proceed with Jolly, an end in the 3-4 scheme, or 13-year veteran Pickett, a space-eater in the middle.
Green Bay also has second-year tackle Mike Daniels, who had a good year with 6 1/2 sacks.
Bradford played a defensive end/outside linebacker position at Arizona State. In Green Bay, he is slotted to join what’s turning into a crowded outside linebacker room that would also include 2012 first-round pick Nick Perry and fifth-year pro Mike Neal.
A position the Packers didn’t restock through the draft is inside linebacker. A.J. Hawk had a good season with 118 tackles and five sacks in 2013 but is entering his ninth year in the league. Brad Jones was hampered by a hamstring injury for a part of last season.
As it stands now, they would be atop the depth chart.
One of McCarthy’s stated offseason goals was to add ”impact players.” They’re hoping that Peppers fits the billing, while Clinton-Dix has the potential to become one in the secondary.
Nothing is being promised to Clinton-Dix, though the Packers’ ”best available player” philosophy intersected with a position of need in his case.
”He’s shown that he can be a three-down player at Alabama, he’s coming from obviously a program where he was very well-coached and they use multiple schemes,” McCarthy said. ”I think his transition here will be pretty seamless, but he needs to come in and compete with the guys that are already here.”