NFL Nation: Mike Trgovac

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If Dom Capers' defensive system can be boiled down to a basic principal, it's this: Blitz as often as necessary to disrupt the rhythm and timing of an opponent's offense.

So it should come as no surprise that since he came to Green Bay as defensive coordinator in 2009, the Green Bay Packers have ranked as one of the NFL's most frequent blitz teams (see accompanying chart).

But there's much more that goes into it than just turning linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks loose.

Some of Capers' best defenses in Green Bay have been those that have blitzed the least (see 2009 and 2010).

"I'd say we're probably normally [blitzing at] around 38 to 40 percent of the time," Capers said.

But with worst defense he fielded, the 2011 unit that ranked last in the league, he blitzed the most.

"We couldn't get any pressure on the quarterback that year," Capers said.

That trend is hardly universal.

Take this season, for example. One of the best defensive performances came in Week 5 against the Minnesota Vikings. In the Packers' 42-10 victory, Capers blitzed on 47.2 percent of the Vikings’ dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information (which defines a blitz as sending five or more pass-rushers at the quarterback). Only three other times this season has Capers blitzed at a higher rate -- at Miami in Week 6 (53.1 percent), against Carolina in Week 7 (50 percent) and against the New York Jets in Week 2 (47.3 percent). All were victories

Then there was 19-7 loss against the Detroit Lions in Week 2, when the defense allowed just 10 points. Capers blitzed a season-low 12.8 percent of the time.

This season, the Packers' defense ranks just 25th in yards, but second in takeaways (22), tied for eighth in Total QBR (50.4) and 11th in sack percentage (7.0).

Here is a look at the Capers' philosophy through the eyes of some of his coaches and players:

Offensive coordinator Tom Clements

Before they were on the same side, Clements coached against Capers. One game stands out: Dec. 8, 2002 in Pittsburgh. Clements was the Steelers' quarterbacks coach, and Capers was the Houston Texans head coach.

"That was a weird game," Clements said. "Our defense held them to about a total of 60 yards. We had about 400 yards, and they beat us by three touchdowns."

[+] EnlargeDom Capers
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsDefensive coordinator Dom Capers has made his mark by adapting his calls to each opponent.
Actually, the numbers were these: The Steelers had 422 yards and the Texans had 47. Houston's defense scored three times, two interception returns and a recovered fumble return, in a 24-6 upset.

Which goes to show that when preparing for a Capers' defense, anything is possible.

"Multiple looks, multiple pressures," Clements said. "It requires a lot of film study by the coaches and the players, because you never know what you’re going to get."

Defensive line coach Mike Trgovac

Trgovac, the Panthers defensive coordinator from 2003-2008, knows what it's like to call plays.

He says it's an oversimplification to simply call Capers a blitzer.

"Just to call 100 blitzes, when you start getting in that rhythm of the game, that's actually the easiest part of the game to call," Trgovac said. "The hard part is trying to pick the blitzes based on what you're seeing in the game. You have something set in your mind early and have to adjust from there."

Trgovac says he often finds Capers alone in his office or a film room calling a mock game to try to anticipate those situations.

"He puts in the hours that's required to have knowledge to make a play call," Trgovac said.

Cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt

Whitt, who like Trgovac has been with Capers since 2009 in Green Bay, also says it's unfair to label their defense as just a blitzing scheme.

"I wouldn't say that," Whitt said. "I would say it's a week-to-week deal, but we're going to try to do anything we can to win that week. If we have to bring five or six guys, we will."

But then Whitt pointed to one of the biggest defensive plays in last Sunday's win against the Eagles, Julius Peppers' 52-yard interception return for a touchdown. Capers rushed only three players -- defensive linemen Datone Jones, Josh Boyd and Mike Neal -- and dropped Peppers, Clay Matthews and A.J. Hawk into coverage.

"It's whatever's needed," Whitt said.

Outside linebacker Peppers

The 13-year NFL veteran has never been used like this. In his eight seasons in Carolina and four in Chicago, he more or less had one job: put his hand on the ground and rush the quarterback as a defensive end.

"They wanted me to rush for the majority of the time," Pepper said. "Every now and then there was a fire-zone call where I was dropping, but primarily I was rushing."

Perhaps said that's why Eagles coach Chip Kelly said they weren't expecting Peppers to drop into coverage. He said it was "a great call" by Capers.

"I don't think it's anything new," said Peppers, who leads the Packers with 5.0 sacks and is tied for second on the team with two interceptions. "He's been doing that since he's been here as far as I'm concerned."
GREEN BAY, Wis. – It goes against everything you probably think run defense is about in the NFL.

Smaller cannot be better.

Not in a world of 325-pound offensive linemen, 250-pound fullbacks and 230-pound running backs.

But after watching their 1,000 pounds of girth on the defensive line last season fall from a top-five run defense at the midway point of last season all the way to 25th by end of the year, the Green Bay Packers are trying a different approach.

[+] EnlargeGreen Bay Packers
Matt Ludtke/AP ImagesMike Daniels moves into a starting role this season after posting 6.5 sacks in 2013.
With that kind of decline, the Packers could not stand pat. So they let two of their three starters from last year – 338-pound Ryan Pickett and 325-pound Johnny Jolly -- leave after their contracts expired. Both remain out of football. They planned to surround their 337-pound nose tackle B.J. Raji with a pair of lighter, more athletic defensive ends in Datone Jones (285 pounds) and Mike Daniels (305).

And then they lost Raji to a season-ending torn biceps in the preseason.

So the defensive line the Packers will take into Thursday's opener at the Seattle Seahawks has an average weight of 309.4 pounds. Last year's defensive line averaged 314.3 per man. This year, the Packers have just one 330-plus pounder, undrafted rookie backup nose tackle Mike Pennel (332 pounds).

"You look at the type of guys in which we have this year as opposed to years past, it's … I wouldn't say smaller, but I would say it's a more active, faster, more aggressive D-line as well as linebacker group," Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews said. "So we feel good about it."

The early returns suggest the Packers might be on to something, although it's always dangerous to make any assumptions based on the preseason. However, with the exception of a 40-yard run by Oakland's Maurice Jones-Drew, who broke three tackles on the play, the Packers' defensive starters did not have much trouble shutting down the run when they played in the first three preseason games.

"People have tried to run the ball on us in the preseason, and we've done a nice job against that," Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. "Some of the teams we played -- Oakland, Tennessee and St. Louis -- they were not fancy. Oakland, especially, was a power team. I think we'll be OK there."

The Seahawks might be the better judge of that.

The defending Super Bowl champs ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing yards per game (136.8) last season, which is nearly what the Packers allowed per game last season. And the Seahawks' featured back, Marshawn Lynch, breaks tackles by the handful.

The Packers go into that game with a new nose tackle -- free-agent pick Letroy Guion (315 pounds) replaces Raji in the starting lineup -- but perhaps defensive coordinator will play even less of his base 3-4 defense than he did last season, when he used it just 24.8 percent of the time.

The alternative would be to use just two down linemen. Either way, the Packers will be smaller and lighter up front than last season.

"It makes me laugh when people say we're smaller," Jones said. "We're not small. Josh Boyd and I are both 6-4, 290 pounds. That's not small at all. Those are two big defensive ends. I wouldn't necessarily say we're smaller. I would just say we went away from the 330-pound defensive linemen and went to a more traditional guy. A lot of people don't see that, but it's not like we're a small defensive line so we can't play the run."
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Anyone who watched Green Bay Packers defensive end Datone Jones early in training camp last summer would have come away impressed.

As a rookie, the 26th overall pick in the 2013 draft dominated practice like only a veteran pass-rusher could. Two weeks into camp, he had one of the best records among the defensive players in the highly competitive one-on-one pass-rushing drill.

[+] EnlargeDatone Jones
AP Photo/Mike RoemerDatone Jones gained valuable experience last season, playing in every game as a rookie.
And then -- nothing.

Well, maybe not nothing. But the next closest thing.

Maybe it was the ankle injury he sustained on his first snap of the preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals that derailed him – although his refusal to use that as an excuse is admirable – but except for a few plays here and there, Jones' rookie season can safely and accurately be categorized as a disappointment despite the fact that he played in all 17 games (including the playoffs).

"I didn't come out with 30 sacks like everybody expected," Jones said during the Packers' most recent OTA.

No one was asking for 30, but few expected the total to be only 3.5 (two of which came in one game, on Nov. 10 against the Philadelphia Eagles).

"I think everybody, when he first came in here, saw his athleticism," Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. "He's a tough kid. There's never been a question of that. He probably fought through that [ankle] thing and tried getting on the field, being a first-round pick and all of that. His maturity in everything he does, his studying, his practice habits, everything will take a leap this next year."

Jones is at the same time self-critical and self-confident.

"I felt like I finished strong," Jones said.

But in the last three regular-season games, his playing time dipped to almost nil. In Week 16 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, he played only four of the 58 defensive snaps. In the regular-season finale against the Chicago Bears, he took the field for only five of 50 snaps. He played 13 of the 64 plays against the San Francisco 49ers in the playoff loss, but some of those came at outside linebacker after Mike Neal left with an injury, leaving the Packers shorthanded at that spot.

"I felt like a lot of guys don't come into the NFL hot," Jones said. "Most guys, even a lot of legends across the NFL, you look at their numbers and what they did the first year. It's not amazing, but it's about what they do the following year. How did they get better?"

Perhaps that's why coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers plan to expand Jones' role and make him a bigger part of what they want to do on defense this season. So far during OTAs, Jones has often teamed with Mike Daniels on the defensive line in obvious passing situations.

In some ways, Daniels could serve as a model for Jones. Although Daniels, a fourth-round pick in 2012, did not arrive with the same expectations as Jones, he also struggled through an ineffective rookie season. In Year 2, Daniels emerged as the team's best interior pass-rusher and more than tripled his sack total, going from 2 as a rookie to 6.5 last season.

"I'm already feeling 100 times better than how I felt last year," Jones said. "I had a full offseason, and I learned so much from these older guys so far. I'm just ready to go out and play."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- When B.J. Raji agreed to return to the Green Bay Packers for a one-year, $4 million contract in March, it looked like a clear indication there was little or no interest in the former first-round draft pick on the free-agent market.

Not so, says the sixth-year veteran.

[+] EnlargeB.J. Raji
AP Photo/Tom DiPaceDefensive tackle B.J. Raji insists that staying in Green Bay is the best place for him this season.
"I talked to three or four other teams," Raji said.

Raji, speaking with reporters last week for the first time since he re-signed with the Packers, declined to name any of the teams that showed interest.

Whether there were any other serious -- or better -- offers has become moot. By signing a one-year deal to return to the team that drafted him ninth overall in 2009, he has put himself in a position to make another run at the free-agent market next offseason.

And he has another 16 games to prove he's worth more than a one-year deal.

Last season, Raji tied his career low with just 36 tackles, according to Packers' team statistics, and failed to record a sack for the second straight season. Since his 6.5 sack season of 2010, Raji has only three sacks.

"You can take that how you want to take it," Raji said. "I just thought this was the best opportunity for me this year."

It took some convincing by coach Mike McCarthy, who shared with Raji his early plans for revamping a defense that slipped to 25th in the NFL last season. One of those changes, McCarthy told Raji, hinged on the 6-foot-2, 337-pounder moving back to nose tackle on a full-time basis in coordinator Dom Capers' base 3-4 defense. That's a spot Raji played with considerable success in 2009 and 2010 before switching spots with defensive end Ryan Pickett.

"Obviously coach McCarthy helped put a few questions that I had to rest," Raji said. "I decided that with our offense and our philosophy on defense moving forward, that this would be the best opportunity for me to win and have success."

At this point, it appears Raji will be the only returning starter on the defensive line. Neither Pickett nor Johnny Jolly has been re-signed.

"I think B.J. likes it here, and I really like B.J.'s attitude right now," Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. "He's been a good leader in there. He's one of the older guys now. When he came in here as a rookie, I said, 'You're not going to believe how fast you're going to be the oldest guy in this room.' When you come in here as a rookie or a second-year guy -- me being in this league for 20 years -- guys don't realize how fast they're going to be the oldest guy in the room because everyone's careers are pretty short."
Don't put a label on new Green Bay Packers defensive end Julius Peppers.

In fact, he probably shouldn't even be called a defensive end.

The way Packers coach Mike McCarthy explained it to reporters on Tuesday at the NFL annual meetings in Orlando, Fla., the newest addition to the Packers' defense will play a hybrid position -- a combination of an outside linebacker and defensive lineman the Packers will call an "elephant."

[+] EnlargePeppers
AP Photo/Paul SancyaThe Packers plan to use Julius Peppers in a variety of ways along their defensive front.
It's a spot that McCarthy first revealed during an interview at the NFL scouting combine last month that was in his plans, well before he knew he would have Peppers on his roster.

In preparing for that role, Peppers will spend most of his individual practice time and meeting sessions with the linebackers, who were merged into one group under assistant head coach Winston Moss and position assistant Scott McCurley following the resignation of outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene shortly after last season ended. It also means Peppers will not work directly under defensive line coach Mike Trgovac, who was Peppers' defensive line coach and defensive coordinator with the Carolina Panthers from 2002-08.

"Elephant is a term used for a multiple-position player along the defensive front," McCarthy told reporters at the league meetings. "Julius will be part of that group.

"The specifics I'd rather get into once the players find out, once we go through it with the players, but that's the big-picture outlook for the way we'll use Julius defensively."

In his only public comments since he signed with the Packers, Peppers, who was released this month by the Chicago Bears, told the Packers' web site he expected his role to be "something different" than it was during his stint with the Bears.

This would qualify as such.

Even before the Packers signed Peppers to a three-year, $26 million contract on March 15, they had planned to use the elephant position for Mike Neal and Nick Perry. In some defenses, the elephant position is used to describe an end who lines up between the offensive tackle and the tight end (in what is called the 7 technique) but based on McCarthy's comments on Tuesday, it appears he has multiple positions in mind for his elephants.

Perry, a former first-round draft pick, was a defensive end in college but switched to outside linebacker with only moderate success the past two years. Neal played his first three NFL seasons at defensive end before he switched to outside linebacker last season.

The trio of Neal, Peppers and Perry could be interchangeable this season.

"It's not only your position, your alignment, it's your assignment," McCarthy said. "So he has more to offer in his opinion, and I agree with him, from an assignment standpoint. So where he aligns, competing against Julius, he's lined up on both sides at defensive end. He has been an inside rusher, so those experiences he already has and will continue to do so."

The addition of Peppers and the redefinition of some positions could make coordinator Dom Capers’ defense look a lot less like the traditional 3-4 he has run throughout his 28-year NFL coaching career. But McCarthy said Capers' defense has evolved into a two-linemen look more than ever to combat the spread offenses used so prolifically around the league.

"How much 3-4 defense do we play?" McCarthy said. "We've been averaging 24-25 percent over the past five years. So we're playing so much sub."

When the Packers do use their base defense, McCarthy confirmed that recently re-signed lineman B.J. Raji will return to his old position, nose tackle. Raji played more at defensive end the past three seasons, when his productivity waned. McCarthy said the plan for Raji will be to "cut him loose."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The official three-day negotiating period before free agents can sign contracts with new teams doesn't begin until Saturday, but the agent for B.J. Raji no doubt has spent the last several weeks gauging his client’s value on the open market.

The information gathered by David Dunn likely wasn't overly positive.

[+] EnlargeB.J. Raji
AP Photo/Tom DiPaceB.J. Raji is close to returning to the Packers for the 2014 season.
Why else would Raji return to the Green Bay Packers for just a one-year deal, as ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported on Thursday was on the verge of being completed?

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the one-year deal would pay Raji about $4 million.

By most accounts, Raji did not play well enough in 2013 to warrant a sizeable contract. He went without a sack for a second straight season, although during that stretch his playing time on third down decreased significantly from early in his career.

Two years after playing 79.1 percent of the defensive snaps, Raji's playing time was reduced to 58.7 percent despite not missing a game.

"I don't label myself as a two-down defensive lineman," Raji said late last season. "I'm just a two-down defensive lineman for us this year."

Raji, 27, never complained about his diminished playing time or how he was used in coordinator Dom Capers' defense, but it was worth wondering if he would have preferred to test his skills in a defense that gives its front players more freedom to rush the passers rather than just eating up blocks, which is what Capers asks his defensive linemen to do the majority of the time.

"He's been a very good leader for us this year," Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said late in the season. "I think he understands the value that he has to us. Now, at the end of the year, who knows?"

While it's a risk for Raji to do just a one-year deal, if he returns to his 2010 form, when he had 7.5 sacks (including the playoffs) then he could be in line for the kind of contract he was hoping for this time around.

Raji's best seasons -- 2009 and 2010 -- came with him playing primarily at nose tackle, a role that Ryan Pickett (who also is scheduled to become a free agent) has taken over the last three seasons.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy suggested several times this offseason that there are tweaks coming to Capers' defense. With smaller but athletic defensive linemen like Mike Daniels and last year's first-round pick, Datone Jones, expected to take on greater roles, perhaps moving the 6-foot-2, 337-pound Raji back to the nose might be in the works.

McCarthy also said at last month's scouting combine that he preferred Mike Neal as an inside rusher rather than an outside linebacker, where he played almost exclusively last season. If the plan is to re-sign Neal, who also was in the final year of his contract last season, then it could be another reason to move Raji back inside. However, there was no indication on Thursday that the Packers had even initiated serious talks with Neal.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Emptying out the notebook from the week that was with the Green Bay Packers heading into Sunday’s NFC wild-card playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field:

Cold-weather QB: Sunday’s game may challenge the Ice Bowl for the coldest game ever played in Green Bay, but history suggests the weather won’t bother Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Since he took over as a starter in 2008, he is 12-4 in freezing temperatures (32 degrees or below) and has the highest total QBR (73.7) out of any player who has made at least three starts in such conditions over the that time period.

Run by design: The Packers shut down the 49ers rushing attack in their Week 1 meeting at Candlestick Park, but don’t expect coach Jim Harbaugh to shy away from the run just because his team managed only 90 yards on 34 attempts in the opener. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the 49ers ran designed runs on 46.8 percent of their plays this season, the highest total in the NFL. What’s more, the 49ers use a wide variety of running plays and formations, including the read-option. “Against this team, you have to let your instincts take over because they give you a lot of different stuff,” Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. “They’re a power team, they’re an option team, they run misdirections.” At times, the 49ers bring in one or two extra offensive linemen.

No line dancing: The Packers go into the playoffs with the same five starting offensive linemen they opened the season with in San Francisco. Of the five, only right tackle Don Barclay missed any starts this season. He missed the Weeks 11-12 games against the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles because of a knee injury. “Any time you have five guys playing together, you don’t have to call out every call and you just know what the other guy’s doing and you build that cohesiveness with each other, it certainly helps to do that,” offensive line coach James Campen said.

Punt return possibilities: As productive as rookie Micah Hyde has been as a punt returner (he finished the regular season 5th in the NFL with a 12.3-yard average), it’s worth wondering if the Packers will go back to Randall Cobb in that role now that he has returned from his Oct. 13 fractured tibia. Cobb has two career punt returns for touchdowns. Last year’s playoff loss to the 49ers turned on a muffed punt return by Jeremy Ross. Hyde’s ball security had been perfect until he muffed a punt that the Packers recovered last Sunday against the Chicago Bears.

Final numbers: Despite not having Rodgers at quarterback for seven-plus games because of his collarbone injury, the Packers finished third in the NFL in total yards per game (400.3), seventh in rushing yards (133.5) and sixth in passing yards (266.8). Last season, the Packers were 13th, 20th and ninth in those respective categories. On defense, they finished 25th in yards allowed per game (372.3), 25th in rushing yards allowed (125.0) and 24th in passing yards allowed (247.3). Last season, they were 11th, 17th and 11th, respectively.

Wild, wild-card games: The matchup of the Packers (8-7-1) and the 49ers (12-4) is the fifth time in wild-card history that one team has had at least four fewer regular-season wins than its opponent. It may come as a surprise that in the previous four games, the team with the fewer regular-season wins has won every time. It last happened in 2011, when the Denver Broncos (8-8) beat the Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4).

Home-field history: The Packers were once unbeatable in home playoff games. From 1939-2001, they were 13-0, the longest postseason home winning streak in NFL history. Since then, they have gone 3-4 in home playoff games (including 2-2 under current coach Mike McCarthy).
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Only Dom Capers knows exactly how much time he spent this offseason studying the read-option offense and devising ways to defend it.

But we know the Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator and his staff made a trip to Texas A&M in March to listen to the Aggies coaches philosophize about it.

And we know Capers spent a day this offseason talking to Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda about it.

[+] EnlargeColin Kaepernick
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesThe Packers are determined not to let 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick run wild again.
And we know he dedicated at least a portion of almost every training camp practice to working against it.

His offseason work was shaped largely by what happened in the Packers’ 45-31 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in last season’s NFC divisional playoff game. Capers’ defense, which had improved from dead last in the league in 2011 to a respectable 11th last season, allowed the 49ers to pile up 579 yards. Colin Kaepernick rushed for 181 of those yards, the most ever gained on the ground by an NFL quarterback.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the 49ers ran the read-option on just 16 of their 75 total snaps in that playoff game and gained 176 yards. Perhaps more remarkable was how easily those yards came. A total of 149 of them came before contact.

But here’s something worth considering: What if the 49ers, knowing full well how much time the Packers dedicated to stopping their read-option in advance of Sunday’s season opener at Candlestick Park, decide not to run it?

The question was posed to Packers players and defensive coaches on Friday.

“Then we’ll have to resort back to our scheme and our instincts and our play-making ability,” Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji said.

Capers was quick to point out the read-option is just one part of the 49ers offense.

“That’s just one phase of it,” Capers said. “The goal is to win the game, so hopefully you’re ready for whatever phase they give you. It’s just another element you have to prepare for, and we’ve invested our time. Hopefully we’re prepared.”

The Packers were caught off guard by the read-option last January. Now, it’s worth wondering if they’ve spent too much time preparing for that one aspect, albeit an important one, of the 49ers game.

“We haven’t just said this is a total read-option team,” Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. “They have other runs and other schemes in their game plan. We haven’t just said everything we’re doing is read-option. We haven’t done that at all because, how many runs did they have against us, 39? (Actually 43). And 16 of them were read-options, so obviously not even half of them were read-options. You have to prepare for their other things as well.”
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Ryan Pickett has come a long way since 2007, when he was so badly out of shape that he couldn’t pass his conditioning test at the start of training camp.

Call him older -- and most of his teammates do -- but the Green Bay Packers defensive end appears to be playing like a much younger man. At age 33 and entering his 13th season, Pickett has learned to take his conditioning much more seriously.

[+] EnlargeRyan Pickett
AP Photo/Morry GashRyan Pickett values offseason workouts now more than he did when he was younger.
The oldest player on the Packers’ roster, Pickett is in the final year of a four-year, $24.9 million contract he signed in 2010. With a salary and bonuses totaling $6.2 million this season, he’s the Packers’ highest-paid defensive lineman and their fourth-highest paid defensive player behind outside linebacker Clay Matthews ($22.02 million in 2013), safety Morgan Burnett ($9.573 million) and cornerback Tramon Williams ($6.5 million).

Pickett knows he is exactly the kind of aging player the Packers tend to let leave in free agency. He will turn 34 two days after the Packers’ Week 5 game against Detroit. He said this week that he hasn’t heard from the team at all about a contract extension. Nevertheless, he appears to be doing whatever necessary to continue his career.

For Pickett, that started in the offseason. He said he used to take off at least one month after each season to wind down. But after completing his 12th season (his seventh with the Packers) last January -- a year in which he played in all 16 regular-season games for the first time since 2008 and had the second-most snaps among the Packers’ defensive linemen -- Pickett said he decided to forgo any down time and went right into his workout routine.

When it comes to NFL big men, it’s wise to take a skeptical approach when listening to them talk about their weight, but Pickett said he’s as light as he has been in years. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 338 pounds, Pickett said this week that last season he would report for midweek weigh-ins at 338 pounds but by game day would be back up to 345.

“Now I weigh 335, and I stay there,” Pickett said this week. “So I’m really probably 10 pounds lighter. It was by design. I really want to lose about five more pounds this camp and play at like 330. I wanted to be able to move better, be a little quicker, but I still feel like I can hold double teams the same.”

If training camp practices are any indication, the Packers don’t have any plans to reduce Pickett’s playing time. He still takes most of the first snaps at defensive end in the base defense and when defensive coordinator Dom Capers wants a run-stopping front in his nickel defense, he has continued to use Pickett as one of the two defensive tackles.

“I think Ryan’s done a great job of understanding that as he gets older, he needs to come into camp in better shape,” Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. “Every year the past couple years, he’s come into camp better and better so he’s not working on getting into shape. He’s already in shape.”

Perhaps that’s why Pickett has been able to prolong his career when other former Packers’ defensive linemen such as Gilbert Brown and Grady Jackson both were done in Green Bay by age 32 (although Jackson played four more years with three other teams) and why Pickett thinks he has a decent chance of going for a few more years. The only training camp practice he has missed this year was one earlier this week after his 1-year-old daughter had a medical emergency, which turned out to be nothing serious.

“This is the last year of my contract here, but I still feel good,” Pickett said. “I get all the old jokes from everybody, but I’m going to play until I don’t feel good. I don’t have a number in mind, but I’m definitely going to play after this year.”

Johnny Jolly not giving in

August, 1, 2013
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Green Bay Packers left guard Josh Sitton offered three words to sum up Johnny Jolly.

"He's all in," Sitton said after Thursday's practice.

That's why it took no one by surprise that Jolly was back on the field that morning, less than 24 hours after injured an ankle near the end of Wednesday's practice. When you've been banished from the NFL for three seasons, served prison time and fought a drug addiction, what's a little ankle sprain?

[+] EnlargeJohnny Jolly
AP Photo/Morry GashJohnny Jolly knows this is probably his last chance to resurrect his NFL career.
The reality for Jolly, who at age 30 is back with the team that picked him in the sixth round of the 2006 draft, is that this is probably his final shot at resurrecting a playing career. How many other teams even would have brought him back after he was arrested three times for possession of codeine dating to 2008 and admitted an addiction to the drug?

But when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reinstated Jolly this spring, the Packers took him back under a renegotiated reduction in salary ($715,000 with none of it guaranteed unless he makes the Week 1 roster) in part, general manager Ted Thompson admitted this week, because of how well-liked Jolly was in the locker room.

And he won additional points Thursday by coming back soon quickly from his injury.

"I would say that's a man that's hungry and fighting for a job and understands that there's competition up front," Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. "He understands that if he doesn't get his reps, somebody else is going to get them. He's been around the NFL long enough to know that if you let somebody else get your reps, somebody else might look good."

Jolly still has work to do and weight to shed in order to get back to his 2009 playing weight of 325 pounds, and Trgovac has him on a snap count for at least the first week of training camp. Yet in his limited work, Jolly has shown some of the power and quickness that made him so effective in 2008 and 2009, when he was a full-time starter. During the one-on-one pass rushing drills so far in camp, Jolly has a respectable 4-5 record.

"He's come back, and he seems to be extremely dedicated to coming in here and making the team and helping this team out," said Sitton, who regularly goes against Jolly in practice. "His energy's been great. He's big, and he's still got a little bit of wiggle. You can tell that he's not 100 percent like where he used to be, but I think that will come with time."

However, it's reasonable to ask if after three years away from the game, a single training camp is enough time.

"He's mentioned to me that he's not seeing [the game] as fast right now, and he will," Trgovac said. "He's had a long layoff, and he'll see it fast."

There's been so much roster turnover since Jolly last played in an NFL game (Jan. 10, 2010 in an NFC wild-card playoff game at Arizona), that the Packers now have plenty of other options. Younger options. Of the nine other defensive linemen in camp with the Packers, only two -- Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji -- were even with the Packers the last time Jolly was an active player.

At this point, Jolly may rank only seventh-best among the team's defensive linemen in camp. Last year, the Packers opened the season with just six on their 53-man roster and dressed only five in Week 1.

"He was a helluva lineman before," Sitton said, "and I think he can be again."
Let's run through some of the basics on the NFL's eight-game suspension of Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove in a Q&A format:

Will Hargrove appeal?

Almost certainly, yes. He has three days to file it with the NFL.

Who will preside over the appeal?

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who finalized the original suspension as well.

Will Hargrove file a lawsuit?

[+] EnlargeAnthony Hargrove
AP Photo/Paul JasienskiAnthony Hargrove "actively obstructed the league's 2010 investigation into the program by being untruthful to investigators," according to the NFL.
Someone will, perhaps on his behalf. The NFL Players Association said in a statement that it will "vigorously protect and pursue all options" on behalf of the suspended players. This is a potentially career-altering suspension. A source told ESPN's Adam Schefter: "Get ready for a massive multiple legal battle over this on several fronts."

When would the suspension start?

At the start of the regular season. That means Hargrove can continue to participate in the Packers' offseason program, go to training camp with them and participate in the preseason. He would be eligible to resume practicing on Monday, Oct. 29.

What does this mean for the Packers?

General manager Ted Thompson rarely signs veteran free agents, so it was fair to assume the Packers had a significant -- if not starting -- role in mind for Hargrove when they signed him. Fortunately for them, they drafted two defensive linemen last weekend, Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels.

Did the Packers know about the suspension before signing Hargrove?

No. It's reasonable to assume they thought one was a possibility, but it's doubtful they thought it would be for eight games.

Will the Packers keep him on their roster?

That's unknown at this point. They wouldn't have to pay him during the suspension and he wouldn't count against their roster. It's worth pointing out that defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said Hargrove's intensity was already having an impact on the team's defensive line in the early stages of the offseason program.

Why was Hargrove punished so severely?

The NFL is obviously sending a serious statement about the bounty issue. But of the four players who were suspended, the NFL singled out Hargrove because he "actively obstructed the league’s 2010 investigation into the program by being untruthful to investigators," according to the league's official statement.

The league said Hargrove certified that he was aware of the bounty program and that he actively participated in it. Does that jibe with a statement Hargrove sent us in March?

In the statement, Hargrove said he did not receive any money, nor was he expecting any, for a late hit on Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre in the 2009 NFC Championship Game. He admitted to celebrating Favre's ankle injury during the game but said it was a mistake and added: "[D]id I personally want Favre INJURED? Absolutely and categorically NO!"

What's your take, Mr. NFC North blogger?

I think this thing is going to get much, much uglier before it goes away. What the NFL alleged about Hargrove's role, as well as that of the three other players, is career-threatening and life-altering. I don't see anyone absorbing such a blow without a legal fight. Hargrove has overcome a number of obstacles just to make it this far in his NFL career, having turned his life around following a year-long suspension for substance abuse in 2008. Remember, there are two sides to every story. Hargrove will be highly motivated to clear his name.
Hargrove & Perry & WorthyUS PresswireThe Packers are counting on (L-R) Anthony Hargrove, Nick Perry and Jerel Worthy to bring a new dimension to their pass rush.
I wish there were a tangible way to illustrate what the Green Bay Packers have been searching for defensively this offseason. Coaches call it "juice," a term that isn't in my edition of "Football for Dummies" and is hard to define but is probably best considered in the context of children drinking sugar-dense orange juice. They bounce off the walls with boundless energy, leaving a path of destruction no ordinary parent could stop.

In football, "juice" doesn't necessarily lead to sacks or tackles behind the line of scrimmage or any other easily-measured statistic. It's more about the energy a player employs, the stress it puts on an offensive line and the way it interrupts the rhythm of a quarterback's mental progression. It leads to mental mistakes by opponents, along with inaccurate throws and poor decisions.

The Packers' defense fell short in a number of key areas last season. One of the most critical deficiencies, it's now clear, was a relative lack of juice up front. Despite a pair of Pro Bowl players in linebacker Clay Matthews and nose tackle B.J. Raji, the Packers were too often neutralized -- both inside and on the edge -- and thus exposed themselves to the kind of big plays that left them with an NFL record for passing yards allowed (4,796).

The team's response has been notable as much for its methods and as its targets. General manager Ted Thompson broke from tradition on multiple occasions, dipping into veteran free agency to sign defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove and trading up three times in last week's NFL draft to select half of the six defensive players he opened the draft with.

When you put Hargrove in a group with first-round linebacker Nick Perry and second-round defensive end Jerel Worthy, you see a profile of exceedingly athletic players with the ability, in their own way, to be natural havoc-wreakers beyond the line of scrimmage. No one would admit to such a detail, and in fact Thompson claimed he had not so much as prioritized the defense this offseason, but I think it's clear the Packers have set out to ratchet up the juice among the defensive players they will use near the line of scrimmage.

"We've got to find a way to control the down and distance," defensive coordinator Dom Capers told reporters in Green Bay, "and [opponents getting] into predictable situations. … We can't give up the number of big plays as we did last year."

ESPN Stats & Information analyzed the Packers' defense on passes that traveled more than 15 yards in the air, finding that opponents gained an NFL-high 79 first downs and completed 21 passes of 30 or more yards in those situations. Coverage issues played a role in that, of course, but it's fair to say opposing quarterbacks must have felt awfully comfortable to have made so many downfield plays.

As the chart shows, the Packers' four-man rush was one of the worst in the NFL. All teams hope their standard rush can disrupt opponents, and that's where the root of the Packers' ills last season lies. When you see defensive players getting little movement beyond the line of scrimmage, that's a visual example of a lack of juice. When defensive players are getting into the backfield, even if they miss the quarterback or running back, that's displaying some juice. The hope is that Hargrove, Perry and Worthy can get the Packers' juices flowing a bit more in 2012. (See what I did there?)

We've already discussed Hargrove's potential impact, and it's worth nothing that defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said Hargrove's hard-charging personality has already had an effect on the position.

"He's another guy that has a lot of juice to him," Trgovac said. "He really plays hard every down. I think it's just kind of in his DNA to go full speed every down. Any time you can inject that into your room, [it's good]. ... He is always talking to those guys about how he's going to work hard every day."

Perry, meanwhile, brings with him a reputation for inconsistency at USC, but the Packers were enamored with the rare physical traits he will bring to outside linebacker and hope he will impose a significant pressure point on the edge. Both Thompson and defensive coordinator Dom Capers noted that Perry ran the 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds and nailed a vertical leap of 38 1/2 inches even while weighing in at 271 pounds.

"He's an explosive player," Capers said. "… We obviously think he has the potential to do that and be the guy we're looking for at the edge."

New Minnesota Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil, who worked against Perry in practice at USC, suggested he is a physical freak. Even if he doesn't rack up sacks, the theory goes, Perry has enough speed and strength to collapse pockets and make quarterbacks uncomfortable.

"That guy looks like he's Hercules," Kalil said. "His biceps are bigger than my legs and he has the lower body of a horse. That plus his athletic ability and just how strong he is and his arsenal of moves [in practice] really made games easy for me."

Worthy has a similar combination of quickness and size, but the Packers also found him to have exceptional instincts and thus have high hopes that he'll move immediately to the point of attack.

"He's one of the better players I've seen in a couple of years in finding the ball," Trgovac said. "He'll add some juice to our front. He'll get off blocks and do some of the things we ask him to do. He's got some quickness to him for a big guy, and he anticipates the snap count very well."

If true, this offseason will be just what the dietician ordered for the Packers. Juice all around!
IRVING, Texas -- We've spent some time wondering if Green Bay Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji would emerge as one of the stars of hype week for Super Bowl XLV. In turn, one Packers coach in particular has worked to prevent it.

"It's my job to keep him on track," Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. "B.J. made an athletic play on a big stage last week [returning an interception for a touchdown in the NFC Championship Game]. But he needs to make sure he knows all the other things he's supposed to do for us. I said, 'B.J., you're nothing but a fat guy from New Jersey. You're supposed to be a grunt for us. Your job is to do all the little things that a nose tackle does that don't get noticed.' Those are the things that helped us get this far."

Trgovac was laughing as he answered the question, but I don't doubt he said something quite similar this week behind closed doors. Raji has been engaging but, almost by rote, has downplayed the depth of his newfound stardom.

"Especially at [the defensive line] a lot of guys don't get a lot of exposure. It was a good play, a timely play. We needed it, but it was not the play that won the game. One play does not win the game, but it was a big play for us."

Sounds to me like Trgovac got to his man.

Lots of Eagles talk at Media Day

February, 1, 2011
ARLINGTON, Texas -- I expected Packers and Steelers assistants to play it pretty close to the vest regarding the defensive coordinator vacancy with the Philadelphia Eagles. And I was wrong.

I had a 20-minute visit with Steelers secondary coach Ray Horton, a former Cowboys safety. He wouldn't say whether the Eagles had contacted his representative, but it's pretty clear the prospect of switching to a 4-3 defense with the Eagles doesn't bother him at all. In fact, he played on a Cowboys Super Bowl team (XXVII) that used the 4-3. Horton's not a fan of the NFL's policy that assistant coaches from the Super Bowl teams have to wait until after the game to interview for vacancies.

"It punishes you for having more success," he told me. "The system actually rewards the coaches who don't make the playoffs or get knocked out early."

Horton hopes one of the three teams that haven't hired a defensive coordinator gives him a shot. He has a great deal of admiration for the late Jim Johnson, and he talked at length about how coaches around the league still use a lot of Johnson's concepts.

I also talked to Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac about the Eagles' opening. He'd been quoted saying he planned to return to the Packers next season, but he told me that he wanted to leave the door open to a coordinator position. Trgovac said he'd promised his high school-aged daughter that he would remain with the Packers for at least three years if possible, so that's something that's also on his mind.

The Inquirer's Jeff McLane spent a lot of time talking to Packers inside linebackers/assistant head coach Winston Moss on Tuesday. Moss wasn't shy about his admiration for the Eagles.

"The Eagles have some established talent there right now," Moss said. "It would be fun to work with that group. They work extremely hard. They play on a fanatical level. They have some playmakers on that defense. In carefully looking at them and then competing against them twice [this season], that would be a fantastic opportunity."

He said he likes the mindset of the Eagles organization.

"It's a very tough culture there," he said. "It's a very aggressive culture there. It's a very fearless culture. You can tell how Andy Reid attacks people from his offensive scheme that that's what he wants. And I believe that I have that same passion. I have that same relentless, fearless desire to get a defense to want to be able to compete at that same level."

And we haven't even mentioned Darren Perry.
Are the Philadelphia Eagles eyeing a member of the Green Bay Packers' coaching staff for their open defensive coordinator job? Yes indeed, according to longtime NFL writer Reuben Frank of

Frank suggests safeties coach Darren Perry is the Eagles' target. Another possibility is defensive line coach Mike Trgovac, who spent six seasons as the Carolina Panthers' defensive coordinator before joining the Packers last season.

Both Perry and Trgovac have been lauded in NFL circles for the job they've done this season, and it's no surprise that an assistant from the league's fifth-ranked defense would be in line for a promotion. Technically, nothing can happen on this front until after Super Bowl XLV. So stay tuned.


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