The Green Bay Packers aren’t just making a slight change to the structure of their defensive coaching staff. According to Mike McCarthy, they’ll also be altering their defensive scheme.
How they’ll be altering it, and how significantly they will do so, isn’t clear, as the Packers head coach didn’t want to get into too many specifics Monday – and apparently hasn’t even told his assistants exactly what he has in mind as of yet.
All McCarthy would say, as he introduced the two prominent additions to his staff (assistant special teams coach Ron Zook and running backs coach Sam Gash) and the two highest-profile coaches whose titles have changed (assistant head coach/linebackers coach Winston Moss and assistant linebackers coach Scott McCurley), was that the defense would remain a 3-4 scheme at its core.
McCarthy also made it clear that some adjustments are coming – and that he will be the one instituting them, with defensive coordinator Dom Capers and his assistants implementing them.
“Our defense is going to change some. You don’t ever stay the same,” McCarthy said as he stood outside the Bart Starr Room inside the Legends Club at Lambeau Field. “I’ll set the vision for the defense; Dom Capers and the defensive staff will carry it out. There will be some adjustments.”
The Packers’ defense finished tied for 24th in scoring defense (26.8 points per game) in 2013, 25th in yards allowed (372.3), 25th in rushing yards allowed (125.0), 24th in passing yards allowed (247.3), tied for eighth in sacks (44) and tied for 20th in takeaways (22).
McCarthy acknowledged that part of the issue with the defensive scheme was not having the full complement of players for much of the season – outside linebacker Clay Matthews’ twice-broken thumb was the biggest blow but not the only injury the unit endured – and that personnel did factor into how the scheme was run.
But, McCarthy also said that the defense didn’t utilize as many varied personnel groups as he would prefer, and that may be where the changes will come in.
“We’re going through scheme evaluation [right now],” McCarthy said. “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, 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.”
And what will those moves be?
“Nothing’s really been put on paper yet. The only thing that I’ve been instructed is basically the structure’s going to stay the same as far as the 3-4. If anything changes there, then that has not been made available to me,” Moss said Monday. “So I’m moving forward that we’ll be structurally the same. Obviously my approach will just naturally bring some different philosophies and different approaches from the standpoint that I like to have a sense of those guys just doing a lot of things well.
“We’re still in the evaluation process. We’re still taking a look at what we did from a scheme standpoint.”
Asked if the defense would still be based in the 3-4, McCarthy said it would. But as he has pointed out in the past, when they go to their nickel and dime sub packages, they’re not in a true 3-4 defense anyway.
“The reality of us, how much are we really in a true, traditional 3-4 base defense?” McCarthy said.
The change that prompted the question was Moss’ title and how the linebackers will be coached. Before, the inside linebackers and outside linebackers had separate position meetings; now, Moss will coach them all with McCurley’s help.
When McCarthy hired Capers in January 2009, Moss, who’d been the linebackers coach in the 4-3 scheme under coordinator Bob Sanders, was made the inside linebackers coach and Kevin Greene was hired as outside linebackers coach. With Greene quitting last month – he said he was stepping away to spend more time with his family – McCarthy decided to bring all the linebackers into one meeting room and have McCurley assist Moss.
During his career, Capers has arranged his coaching staff both ways. From 1992 through 1994, during the heyday of his Blitzburgh defenses under head coach Bill Cowher, the Steelers only had one linebackers coach – future Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis.
From 1995 through 1998, when Capers was the head coach of the Carolina Panthers, he had Kevin Steele carrying the title of linebackers coach but Billy Davis, then a young, up-and-coming coach, had the title of outside linebackers coach.
In 1999 and 2000, as the Jacksonville Jaguars’ defensive coordinator under Tom Coughlin, Capers had an inside linebackers coach (Steve Szabo) and an outside linebackers coach (Lucious Selmon). Then from 2002 through 2005 as head coach of the Houston Texans, Capers had only a linebackers coach – Reggie Herring in 2002 and 2003 and Tom Olivadotti in 2004 and 2005.
“This game is always going to be about technique and fundamentals. Our program has always been built around teaching and demanding,” Moss said. “It’s very important that the guys that we work with understand that they’ve got to grow. They’ve got to get into this scheme and they’ve got to be able to comprehend it and they’ve got to be able to work very, very hard. At the end of the day, it’s going to be about production and consistency. That’s the bottom line.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.