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Tuesday, August 11, 2009
A few fights, but no headbutting in GB -- yet

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

 
  Getty Images/AP Images
  Kevin Greene, left, and Mike Trgovac have brought added intensity to practices.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- After a few days of Packers training camp, outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene had already lost his voice. Fear not, however. Greene compensated by threatening to head-butt his players as an alternate form of communication.

During the first week of training camp, one practice was halted early to cool off brawling players. A few others featured post-whistle fisticuffs when offensive players grew frustrated with the ultra-aggressive contact initiated by their defensive teammates.

The Packers' defensive scheme change has been documented for months, but moving from a 4-3 alignment to a 3-4 is only part of the team's plan to rejuvenate what had become a predictable and staid approach. During a three-day visit to camp last week, it was plainly evident that raising the energy level and instilling a fiercer attitude is just as important a priority.

"A big part of defensive football is attitude and tempo and guys flying around," new coordinator Dom Capers said. "It's a physical, aggressive, attacking approach. The more we can be aggressive and attack, then hopefully the more you have some offenses reacting to you instead of you reacting to the offense."

There's nothing revolutionary about a new coordinator and his staff bringing new energy and heightened urgency to a team. They wouldn't have been hired had the previous approach worked, and players realize their jobs and futures depend on impressing a new set of bosses. If all works according to plan, things probably will have calmed down a bit by next summer's camp.

In this case, however, the liveliness seems intentional rather than a bi-product. Coach Mike McCarthy hired Capers to replace the well-liked but humorless Bob Sanders. In turn, Capers and McCarthy brought aboard two non-stop balls of intensity in Greene and defensive line coach Mike Trgovac. In the understatement of the summer, McCarthy said: "If you want to break down the personality of the staff, I'd say this is a more outgoing group."

In his first full-time coaching job, Greene appears to have rekindled the passion he played with from 1985-99. He's in constant motion on the practice field, smacking helmets here and screaming until his red face appears to be a permanent affectation. (As does the sore larynx, which left him with a raspy whisper during a midweek interview.) Greene's individual drills are so physical, said linebacker Jeremy Thompson, that "they feel like playing a game."

"We're just hitting each other and hitting each other," Thompson said. "By the time we get to the team period, we've already been hitting so much that we're wound up and ready to go. Meetings are the same kind of intensity."

According to linebacker Brady Poppinga, Greene lost his temper several times during the first week of camp. At one point, Poppinga said Greene told them he was resisting the urge to head-butt them. Poppinga, a wild-eyed player in his own right, wisely talked him down.

"I just said, 'Kevin, I don't think you'd like that. You'd be on the wrong end of that deal,'" Poppinga said.

During a civil moment later, Greene hardly glossed over the intent of his approach.

"This defense has to have a relentless, in-your-face smashing attitude," Greene said. "I've never known a championship team with a passive defense. They've got to be proactive and, basically, get in people's grills.

"These guys are playing because ultimately they love this game. So as a coach you have to pull that love out of them and pull that passion out of them. And when you start playing with that kind of passion and that love, then you start talking about [having a championship defense.]"

Trgovac has been coaching with a similar style for decades, and he had no doubt what McCarthy and Capers were looking for when they hired him this winter.

"When you look at defensive line and the front seven," Trgovac said, "there are a lot of guys that make plays that don't take the proper step and didn't have the proper footwork. To me, [defense] is a lot more attitude than it is scheme. You've got to teach the scheme and teach the right fundamentals. I'm a stickler for that. But attitude can make up for a lot of mistakes that you can make. That's what we're really trying to preach to them, finishing plays and having the defensive attitude that Dom and Mike are looking for."

My lasting image of Trgovac last week was watching his face turn blue when he realized that several rookie defensive linemen didn't realize it was their turn to take the field during team drills. I can't come anywhere close to quoting him for a family Web site, and the sentence wouldn't make sense with all of the necessary "expletive deleteds." Suffice it to say, Trgovac displayed quite a range of volume and vocabulary while sprinting toward the players to shove them into the drill.

Ultimately, high volume and practice fights by themselves aren't going to make the Packers defense better this season. But neither will a one-man change in the number of lineman and linebackers on the field. It's all part of the total package. Head butts and all.