by Troy Sparks
Green Bay – Failing to get back to the Super Bowl after winning it in 2011 forced the Green Bay Packers to go back to the drawing board and ask themselves what happened in the last two postseasons.
Packer Nation had more questions than answers about the lack of the team showing up and matching the toughness of the New York Giants, who beat the Pack at Lambeau Field in the 2012 Divisional Playoffs. Colin Kaepernick, the speedy San Francisco quarterback, ran by the Green Bay defense so many times in the second round of the 2013 playoffs in San Francisco that head coach Mike McCarthy sent his defensive assistants to Texas A&M recently to get advice on how to stop a running, throwing signal caller.
On top of all that, the knock on the Packers was that they were too soft. Well, if you have some players who didn’t put a lick on the other team, then the shoe fits. So to shed the label of being a soft team, the Packers had to address the situation of not being physical enough and slow on defense through the NFL Draft, which began April 25, in New York City and ended April 27.
The media gallery in the Lambeau Field auditorium waited with anticipation on what the Packers were going to do. Would they try to trade up or stay put with their 26th overall pick? They traded up at 26 to get linebacker Clay Matthews three years ago. It was apparent that the club was looking for more help on the defensive side of the ball.
At 26, the Pack chose UCLA defensive end Datone Jones. They liked his versatility and flexibility, which came from his basketball background in high school. Jones envisioned himself lining up next to defensive end Nick Perry and nose guard B.J. Raji to help free up Matthews to sack the opposing team’s quarterback. Jones’ dream to play for the 13-time world champs came true.
“I didn’t think they were (interested),” Jones said on a conference call to the media. “But this last week, I started to get more calls and it seemed like they were really interested, so get ready.” Jones wants to model his game after the late Reggie White. “When I was younger, I heard someone say, ‘Reggie White wanted to know what was going on in the (defensive) backfield. He wanted to know the personnel.’ The only thing he knew was to keep the (offensive) guards off him. When I put my pads on and I play . . . . I only play one way.”
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers will be working on finding a way to put Jones on the field and he loves the upside of the 6-foot-4, 285-pounder. “He’s athletic and he’s long,” Capers said. “He moves with ease. I think he’ll be able to give us some rush inside. And I think in our 3-4, he can play out of defensive end and he can be an inside player. I think he’ll do a good job in the run and the pass.”
Obviously, the first round pick made general manager Ted Thompson look like a genius as their focus was on taking Jones if he was still available. “We think he adds a little versatility to our (defensive) group,” Thompson said. Jones should transition to the Packers’ defensive scheme because it’s almost identical to what the Bruins run.
“The (UCLA) coaches were talking to him about some of the (language) that we use, they use there,” Thompson said. “We always got good reports. He’s a very sharp guy. I think you’ll like him a lot in terms in the interview part. Very impressive guy. Like I said he can run. He’s got quickness. He played nose tackle in some of their sets. We think that he’ll be good in our sub packages. He’ll add a little something to our group.”
The Packers got the running back of the future in the second round in Alabama’s Eddie Lacy. This guy sees himself as a running back who will wear the defense down for four quarters. What Green Bay got in Lacy was a player who will help with pass protection if they line him up on the left or the right side or throw the ball to him in the open field.
The one back system should work for the Packers. Cedric Benson was supposed to be that guy last year until he injured his foot and was placed on injured reserve. The club brought Benson in to look at his foot and probably wasn’t convinced that it was a risk worth taking again and being in his 30s. Besides, the Pack needed a young, physical back to protect the new $110 million man in quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
David Bakhtiari (Colorado) and J.C. Trotter (Cornell) will push the offensive linemen in training camp this summer. The two fourth round picks at tackle might step on the toes of the backup O-linemen for some playing time. Jones’ teammate at UCLA, Jonathan Franklin, is a safe fourth round pick and will fight for a roster spot, despite seeing his draft stock plunge.
Micah Hyde (Iowa), a cornerback, and defensive end Josh Boyd (Mississippi St.), fifth round picks, might be put on the practice squad with a strong camp. The depth at both positions is set. Green Bay chose linebacker Nate Palmer from Illinois St. in the sixth round and nabbed receivers Charles Johnson from Grand Valley St. and Maryland’s Kevin Dorsey. Linebacker Sam Barrington from South Florida was the last of three seventh round picks.
McCarthy has a group that he calls tough, athletic and versatile. Now all of that talent and talking will come to an end when we will see if they are ready for the 49ers in Week 1 of the regular season, Sept. 8, in San Francisco.