With defensive coordinator Dom Capers having used a 3-4 scheme throughout the entirety of his coaching career, Green Bay will tweak a few aspects of the defensive scheme this offseason, rather than make a drastic overhaul.
Jeff Hanisch/Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
GREEN BAY, Wis. — No, the Green Bay Packers aren’t going to stop running a 3-4 as their base defense. But that doesn’t mean that the NFL’s 25th-ranked defense isn’t looking to make a few changes before next season.
It seemed possible that the Packers could make a more drastic shift this offseason, especially after the team decided to expand Winston Moss’ role to coach all linebacker positions. However, with defensive coordinator Dom Capers having used a 3-4 scheme throughout the entirety of his coaching career, Green Bay will tweak a few aspects of it rather than have a complete overhaul.
"Our defense is going to change some," coach Mike McCarthy said Monday. "You don’t ever stay the same. I’ll set the vision for the defense; Dom Capers and the defensive staff will carry it out. There will be some adjustments. I don’t know if you’ll notice them or not. Based on our personnel, too, that obviously plays into it. We’re going through scheme evaluation."
Though in recent years the Packers had been using one coach to work with the outside linebackers and another coach to work with the inside linebackers, Capers previously had one coach handle both responsibilities during earlier NFL stops. Now, after Kevin Greene’s recent decision to step away from football to spend more time with his family, Moss takes over the dual role.
"The only thing that I’ve been instructed is basically the structure’s going to stay the same as far as the 3-4," Moss said.
Factoring into McCarthy’s decision with Moss was that Green Bay frequently uses defensive looks other than the 3-4, lessening the necessity for having two separate linebackers coaches.
"If you look back through the history of the 3-4 defense and the reality of us, you know, how much are we really in a true, traditional 3-4 base defense?," McCarthy said. "There was always just one linebacker coach. I feel strongly that with our new structure with having all the linebackers, the inside linebackers, the outside linebackers and really a position that we attempted to develop last year, the elephant position with Mike Neal, kind of a dual-role outside linebacker-defensive end and maybe some defensive tackle, all those players being in one room and hearing one common voice.
"I feel very good about the way it’s structured. It’s something Dom Capers, he’s used this format in the past. I thought it was a very natural transition for us and I know our players will be excited about having everybody in one room, particularly playing for Winston Moss."
It should also allow McCarthy to see more versatility from the Packers’ defense.
"We were not as multiple maybe this year as we’ve been in prior years, really because of the stress of injuries on that unit," McCarthy said. "So we want to get back to some of the things that we did very well in the past and make sure we’re carrying enough packages to utilize all of our players.
"We obviously need to get better on defense, and I think these moves that we’ve made on defense will definitely put us on that path."
A natural move for Van Pelt: Alex Van Pelt had never coached or played running back when he took over that position with the Packers in 2012. While the former NFL quarterback maintains that it’s not necessary to have played the position in order to coach it, Van Pelt should be a much more natural fit in his new role with Green Bay.
After Ben McAdoo was hired in January to be the offensive coordinator for the New York Giants, the Packers moved Van Pelt over from running backs coach to quarterbacks coach.
"Anybody can coach the position," Van Pelt said. "The only thing it gives you is the ability to say, ‘Hey, I experienced this.’ That’s about it in that regard. I actually took a five-step drop and had to pressure out to the right side and threw an interception. I know what that’s like. I’ve done that. That’s really about all it does give you is say ‘Hey, I’ve had these experiences and this is what I’ve learned from them.’"
Van Pelt benefitted as running backs coach in 2013 by being able to work with Eddie Lacy, who recently collected his NFL Rookie of the Year award. But now Van Pelt is working with former NFL Most Valuable Player Aaron Rodgers, and he won’t need nearly the same grooming as what Lacy did.
"It’s tough to say you’re going to go out and teach Aaron Rodgers how to throw the football," Van Pelt said. "My job is to continually challenge him. To make him think and learn about things that haven’t been emphasized in a while. Point out areas where I think we can improve in. For a guy like Aaron, it’s really about continuing to challenge him and make him come to work and have to think differently than he has in the past to maybe stimulate and keep him growing as a quarterback.
"It’s tough for a guy who’s at the top of the charts in that area, but that’s our job as coaches to continually stimulate these guys and challenge them and get the best out of them."
Introducing Coach Gash: Part of Van Pelt’s early responsibilities will be getting new running backs coach Sam Gash up to speed with Green Bay’s offense. It will be just like when Van Pelt came in two years ago and had to learn on the fly from Jerry Fontenot, who was making the transition from running backs coach to tight ends coach.
Van Pelt and Gash already have a history together, having played together with the Buffalo Bills from 1998-1999.
"Sam, he’s always been blue-collar, hard-worker, tough guy," Van Pelt said. "He carries himself with a lot of respect from the locker room. He’s one of my favorite players in all my years playing football. One of the last, true fullbacks. He brought a toughness and grit every day to work. That’s what stood out when I played with Sam."
Gash was the Detroit Lions’ running backs coach from 2008-2012, so McCarthy had seen him work twice during each of those seasons.
"I’ve always liked Sam Gash," McCarthy said. "He’s an excellent fit for us. He’s played the position, he’s coached running backs. He did a very good job in the interview process. He’s worked with Alex Van Pelt in the past. I think his transition will be very easy to our offense."