The transition to the Packers' new 3-4 defensive scheme officially began on Tuesday, and it truly is a new beginning. Tuesday was the first day Head Coach Mike McCarthy and new defensive coordinator Dom Capers had their entire defensive coaching staff together. They talked about the upcoming season and about the new defensive scheme. It's a process that Capers, who has led previous transitions from a 4-3 to 3-4 alignment up front, characterized as "starting from scratch," and one McCarthy likened to when he first arrived as head coach three years ago, except that it's only one side of the ball beginning anew.
"We went through defensive terminology, defensive philosophy, talked at length about our personnel, how they fit, different packages that we would possibly create and so forth," McCarthy said. "It's starting Day 1, and we'll just build that playbook day by day."
The defensive staff, which also includes newcomers Mike Trgovac on the defensive line, Kevin Greene for the outside linebackers, and Darren Perry for the safeties, along with holdovers Winston Moss for the inside linebackers, Joe Whitt Jr. with the cornerbacks and Scott McCurley on quality control - developed a preliminary depth chart of the team's personnel, but McCarthy and Capers both emphasized that's just a starting point. Capers has spent some time reviewing film to get a feel for what the current defensive players do well, but he hasn't seen enough yet to address specifics or make any definitive judgments. That more likely will come when the staff gets to work with the players on the field during the offseason program, mini-camps and OTAs, so for now the depth chart is a work in progress.
"I've got a general feel of guys," Capers said. "But so much as we go along, your system has to have enough flexibility to where you can go in the direction you think your talent will take you. "The biggest challenge for us once we get the players in here and we get them on the practice field is to learn more what our strengths and weaknesses are. How much we do of one thing or another will be based off of what our guys do best."
In the meantime, between now and when the coaching staff leaves for the NFL Scouting Combine in mid-February, the defensive coaches will have daily meetings, often twice or thrice daily, to begin laying the groundwork for their scheme and how to teach it. Capers noted that all the initial discussions of techniques, playbook suggestions and the like are invaluable, because the better the coaching staff understands everyone's role in the process, the smoother it makes the transition for the players.
"With the staff, you start talking about philosophy and all those little things that sometimes get passed over," he said. "That's one of the unique things when you're starting from a ground level. We have to do a good job putting together a teaching plan, and it starts with making sure we're all on the same page to begin with."
McCarthy said one of the biggest initial adjustments for the defensive players will be learning the terminology of the 3-4, not unlike three years ago when the offensive players had to learn the terminology in McCarthy's version of the West Coast offense. But while the base alignment of the 3-4 obviously will be different, McCarthy said there are various sub-packages that up front may not look that different from what fans are used to seeing. What both McCarthy and Capers like about the 3-4 is its ability to disguise pressure packages. From a base 3-4 alignment, a fourth pass rusher could be any one of the four linebackers coming from the second level. And a fifth rusher could be any one of the remaining linebackers, either from a different area of the field, or from the same area as another linebacker to create an overload and stress one spot in the offense's protection scheme. But those sorts of details are for later on. Right now, McCarthy and Capers are focused on fostering the teamwork amongst the defensive staff that will need to be transferred to the players, and Capers definitely feels the right individuals are in place to accomplish that. He's particularly familiar with Greene and Perry, both of whom he coached as players in Pittsburgh in the early 1990s, while the familiarity Moss and Whitt have with the current players will help as well. He even mentioned that Trgovac, the Carolina defensive coordinator the past six years, was a coach Capers had his eye on during his two head coaching stints but was never able to hire because Trgovac was always under contract.
"I think, No. 1, you want good teachers," Capers said. "There are a lot of characteristics going through it, but I think the guys are good teachers, they're guys that have a great work ethic, and they're the kind of guys that are going to be able to pull together on same page and form the kind of team (you want). "The same things we're going to talk to the players about, you have to have as a coaching staff to begin with, and that's a common vision -- being able to come together, paying attention to detail, and being able to teach the fundamentals, and then understand it's going to be a lot of hard work involved."
Hard work certainly doesn't intimidate this group, and that starts with McCarthy. More than likely it would have been easier to stick with the same defensive scheme and simply try to improve, not exposing the players to the shift in duties and philosophy that comes with the scheme change. But the shift is underway, and there's no reason to look back now.
"Change creates excitement," McCarthy said. "I think the Green Bay Packer organization will never lack for energy. It's such a great place to work from a culture standpoint, the passion of all the people that work here. "But there's definitely a ton of energy on the third floor right now. Today is exciting. We're finally all back. Everybody is here. Our staff is complete, and you can just tell by the response of the players and the people close to the football team, everybody is excited about our new direction."