NFL Nation: Nick Perry

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- You can't accuse the Green Bay Packers' 64-year-old defensive coordinator of being averse to trying new things.

On Sunday, after a week of questions about why Clay Matthews' production had slipped this season, Dom Capers unveiled another new defensive package. This one, called "NASCAR" presumably because it employed more speed on the defensive front, may not have led to a breakout for Matthews, but it proved useful in what was perhaps the Packers' best defensive showing of the year in their 38-17 win over Carolina.

[+] EnlargeClay Matthews
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsClay Matthews was able to put steady pressure on Panthers quarterback Cam Newton on Sunday.
And, oh yeah, Matthews managed to get a shared sack with Julius Peppers, although it came out of a different package.

In "NASCAR," Capers went without any traditional defensive linemen in what was a dime (six defensive back) secondary alignment. Instead, he lined up Matthews and Peppers -- his starting outside linebackers -- as defensive tackles on the interior of the line and flanked them with Nick Perry and Mike Neal as outside linebackers.

"It gets all four of our elephant types on the field at the same time," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "Yeah, it's been very productive."

Capers used it only in third-down situations. The first five times he employed "NASCAR" on Sunday, the Packers came up with third-down stops on four of them, including Perry's sack of Cam Newton on third-and-5 to end the Panthers' second series. Carolina converted just 4-of-12 third downs.

"We like that a lot because you put me, Pep, Mike Neal and Nick Perry out there; that's a pretty good pass-rushing group," Matthews said. "When we put that in there, we're thinking that's a pass-rushing down, and we turn loose a little bit. You always love that."

The Packers sacked Newton just three times, but Matthews missed on two others. He shared one of the sacks with Peppers, who had another by himself. Still, through seven games this season, Matthews has just 1.5 sacks. After getting shut out in the tackle category a week ago at Miami, Matthews was credited with two stops against the Panthers.

"In all honesty, I don't have to prove it to anyone but myself," said Matthews, the four-time Pro Bowler. "I'm a good player, and I know that I am. And it's just about putting together performances."

The Packers didn't feast on turnovers like they had the previous four games (when they had 11 takeaways), although cornerback Casey Hayward picked off his second pass in as many games. But the defense was borderline dominant early in the game. At first quarter's end, the Panthers had just 5 total net yards.

"You wish every quarter was like that," Packers cornerback Davon House said. "We only got, what, 12 plays of defense, and the offense scored every single time they got the ball. That was probably as close to perfect."

Good news for Packers' Clay Matthews

September, 26, 2014
Sep 26
1:30
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Clay Matthews has progressed as he had hoped since leaving Sunday's loss at Detroit with a groin strain.

 After he took part in practice on a limited basis on Wednesday and Thursday, the Green Bay Packers on Friday listed their star linebacker as probable for Sunday's game at the Chicago Bears.

That came a day after Matthews said: "I'll be out there."

There's still one hurdle for Matthews to clear before kickoff. Under coach Mike McCarthy’s new schedule, the Packers hold a light practice on Saturdays before Sunday games. The Packers did not practice on Friday but estimated that Matthews' participation level would have been limited if they would have practiced.

"Yeah, so far, so good," McCarthy said Friday. "The medical review, the report today was good on Clay. We still have 48 hours, so we're confident that he'll be ready to go. But like I said, he's still working through it."

Perhaps the biggest injury concern is to No. 3 receiver Jarrett Boykin, who had previously been on the injury report with a knee injury. However, the team added groin to the list of his ailments so he's questionable.

That could open the door for rookie Jeff Janis to get his first shot. The seventh-round pick has been inactive the first three games.

Here's the full injury report:

Questionable
WR Jarrett Boykin (knee, groin)
LB Brad Jones (quadriceps)

Probable
RT Bryan Bulaga (knee)
CB Davon House (knee)
OLB Clay Matthews (groin)
OLB Nick Perry (wrist)

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- General manager Ted Thompson was probably fortunate to find anyone willing take defensive end Jerel Worthy off the Green Bay Packers' hands.

That the New England Patriots on Tuesday were only willing to give up a late-round pick, likely a seventh-rounder, that is conditional on Worthy making their opening-day roster, should serve as condemnation of Thompson's 2012 draft class.

Most believe it takes three years to evaluate a draft class but less than two-and-a-half years later, that class is almost all gone.

In his 10 years as GM, Thompson has relied on the draft to build a perennial NFC contender but his 2012 class has not helped much. He picked eight players that year and only three of them remain on his roster. Just one of them, defensive end Mike Daniels, is penciled in as a starter.

To pick Worthy at No. 51 overall, Thompson traded up, giving a fourth-round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles to move up eight spots.

Thompson will speak to the media on Wednesday during his regularly-scheduled training camp press conference, and the decision to trade Worthy and what it says about that draft class will be discussed.

But before that, here's a player-by-player look at how that class turned out:

OLB Nick Perry (first round, No. 28 overall): Tired of waiting for him to be healthy, Thompson brought in veteran pass-rusher Julius Peppers this offseason to play in the spot where Perry started at times in his first two seasons. Multiple injuries limited Perry to just 17 of a possible 32 games in his first two seasons. He has worked as a backup in training camp.

DE Jerel Worthy (second round, No. 51 overall): Played 467 snaps in a part-time role as a rookie before he tore his ACL in the regular-season finale. Then played just 13 snaps last season after coming off the physically unable to perform list in November. He sustained a back injury lifting weights this offseason, which required surgery in April, and never made it back to practice before Tuesday's trade.

CB Casey Hayward (second round, No. 62 overall): Led all rookies with six interceptions in 2012, but played in only three games last season because of a recurring hamstring injury. Likely will return to his role as the slot cornerback in the nickel package this season.

DE Mike Daniels (fourth round, No. 132 overall): An emerging star and leader on the defense, Daniels posted 6.5 sacks last season (second on the team to Clay Matthews) as a backup and figures to have a greater impact as a starter this season. So far, he's been the star of this draft class.

S Jerron McMillian (fourth round, No. 133 overall): Began the 2013 season as the starting strong safety but was released on Dec. 3 after being phased out of the defense because of poor play. He is in camp with the Kansas City Chiefs.

LB Terrell Manning (fifth round, No. 163 overall): Played only sparingly, mostly on special teams, as a rookie and then was released in the final cuts at the end of training camp last year. Since then, he has been with three different teams and is currently in camp with the New York Giants.

T Andrew Datko (seventh round, No. 241 overall): Released in the final cuts at the end of training camp last year. Spent his rookie season on the practice squad and was never on the active roster. He's currently out of the NFL.

QB B.J. Coleman (seventh round, No. 243 overall): Spent his rookie season on the practice squad and then was released before the start of last season. He's currently out of the NFL.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers are finally at full strength in their linebacking corps, but how long will that last?

It's a reasonable question considering the injury history of Nick Perry and to a lesser extent Mike Neal.

A day after Mike Neal was activated from the physically unable to perform list, Perry joined him on Thursday.

Neal
Perry
For Perry, it was his first on-field activity since the end of last season, which he finished on a bum foot and ankle. He then missed all of the offseason practices while recovering from not only the foot, but also a knee injury.

For a former first-round pick who has missed almost as many games (15) as he has appeared in (17) in his first two years, it was not the kind of offseason he needed.

"Availability is a primary focus for job responsibility, definitely," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said upon Perry's return Thursday. "We obviously have had some tough times in the past, but we feel like we're doing things to stay in front of that. Nick, sometimes players go through injury situations, one then two. Sometimes it just takes a little while to get off that cycle. Hopefully he's off that."

In their first practice together, Neal (who had a core muscle injury) and Perry were paired together as the No. 2 outside linebacker combination behind Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers. Last season, Neal and Perry combined to play more than 1,100 snaps. Their snap counts almost certainly will not be as high, considering Matthews and Peppers will be the primary rushers.

Last season, Neal played in all 16 games for the first time in his four NFL seasons. Perry played in 11 games last season and just six as a rookie.

McCarthy said Neal and Perry have no practice limitations.

"It was good to get Nick back out there," McCarthy said. "Mike obviously practiced yesterday and had a good day, did some really good things today. You can't have enough really good football players, and just getting them out there and getting them in sync with what we're doing and how we're using them to get the combination work, to get the feel for the next guy you're going to be rushing with in the game, that's a priority of training camp. These reps are so important. Missed practices in training camp in today's world is a little more magnified obviously than in past years."

However, the defense was still not at full strength because safety Morgan Burnett was held out after suffering an ankle injury during Wednesday's practice. Also, undrafted rookie safety Tanner Miller missed practice because of an ankle injury.

McCarthy did not have specifics about the long-term prognosis for either player.

Packers Camp Report: Day 3

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
6:30
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Green Bay Packers training camp:


  • Lest you forgot about Sean Richardson when it came time to talk about playing time at the safety position, the third-year pro reminded everyone of his potential on Monday. With the pads on for the first time, Richardson made a play that has rarely been replicated by a Packers safety since the days of Nick Collins or Charles Woodson. During a team blitz period, Aaron Rodgers fired a pass over the middle to Jordy Nelson but Richardson jumped in and snatched the ball away from Nelson for an interception.
  • For the first padded practice of camp, the temperature on Monday morning when things kicked off at 8:20 a.m. local time was just 56 degrees. An hour into the practice, it was not yet 60 degrees, but the Packers took one of their TV timeout regeneration breaks and followed it with one short period followed by another water break. Still, when asked whether it was fun to put the pads on, veteran guard Josh Sitton said, "I mean, fun is a little strong." The practice lasted 2 hours, 26 minutes – or about 10 minutes longer than the non-padded practices each of the first two days.
  • Nose tackle B.J. Raji got off to a strong start in the first one-on-one pass-rushing drill. He won all three of his reps. Of course, when someone wins, it means someone else looked bad. Twice, Raji beat JC Tretter, who is trying to lock down the starting center job. Raji beat Tretter with his quickness on one turn and then overpowered him on another. Tackle Bryan Bulaga also looked good in his first turns since blowing out his knee last camp. He won all three of his reps, including one at left tackle against Clay Matthews.
  • In other odds and ends from practice: Cornerback Davon House had a strip-sack of Matt Flynn and recovered the fumble during the team blitz period. … If you're looking for an undrafted rookie to watch, keep an eye on inside linebacker Joe Thomas of South Carolina State. He's a bit undersized (6-1, 227) but is around the ball often. … In what could be a bad sign for undrafted rookie tight end Colt Lyerla, he was relegated to the scout team that worked against the defense at the start of practice while the majority of the offensive players, including fellow undrafted rookie tight end Justin Perillo, practiced inside the Hutson Center at the start of the session.
  • Outside linebacker Mike Neal said he could be cleared to practice as soon as Wednesday. He remains on the PUP list with a core muscle injury but is scheduled to be examined on Tuesday. He said he reported to camp lighter than ever, at 263 pounds. He played last season at 275, which is about 25 pounds lighter than he was is first three seasons, when he played defensive end.
  • In addition to Neal, others who remained out were: Nick Perry (foot, knee), Jamari Lattimore (illness), Jeff Janis (illness), Letroy Guion (hamstring), and Jerel Worthy (back). Janis made an appearance at practice for the first time in camp.
  • The Packers do not practice on Tuesday. They return to the field on Wednesday at 8:20 a.m. local time.
Examining the Green Bay Packers' roster:

Quarterbacks (3)
The Packers have not kept three quarterbacks on their opening-day roster since 2008, but they might be inclined to do so this season in order to avoid a situation like last year, when Rodgers broke his collarbone. Coach Mike McCarthy is high on Tolzien, who made two starts last season, but Flynn has proved he can win as a backup in Green Bay.

Running backs (4)

The return of Harris, who missed all of last season because of a knee injury, gives the Packers insurance behind Lacy and Starks. Kuhn is valuable both as a fullback and on special teams. It's possible they'll keep a fourth halfback, but the loss of Johnathan Franklin to a career-ending neck injury has left them without a strong in-house candidate for that spot.

Receivers (6)

The Packers often keep only five receivers, but given that they drafted three -- Adams (second round), Abbrederis (fifth round) and Janis (seventh round) -- there's a good chance they will keep six. Abbrederis and Janis will not only have to show they're better prospects than second-year pros Myles White and Chris Harper, but they also could help themselves if they can return kicks.

Tight ends (4)

McCarthy likes tight ends (he has kept five before), and the wild card is undrafted rookie Colt Lyerla.

Offensive linemen (8)

The Packers typically only activate seven offensive linemen on game day, so they can get away with keeping just eight on the roster. Barclay's ability to play all five positions also allows them some freedom. Lane Taylor could be the ninth lineman if they go that route.

Defensive line (7)

Worthy and Guion have work to do to make the roster, but there's room for them if you count Julius Peppers and Mike Neal among the outside linebackers, which is where they lined up more often in the offseason.

Linebackers (8)

There will be some tough cuts here. Second-year pros Nate Palmer and Andy Mulumba both played last year as rookie outside linebackers. It also may be tough for highly touted undrafted rookie Adrian Hubbard to make it.

Cornerbacks (6)

Hayward's return from last season's hamstring injury means he likely will return as the slot cornerback in the nickel package, a role played last year by Micah Hyde (who may primarily play safety this year).

Safeties (4)

The major question here is whether Hyde or Clinton-Dix will be the starter alongside Burnett. Chris Banjo, who played primarily on special teams last season, might be the odd man out.

Specialists (3)

There's no competition at any of these spots.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It's one thing for a proven player like Clay Matthews to miss the entire offseason program while recovering from his twice broken thumb.

Matthews has turned in Pro Bowl seasons before while missing major parts of the offseason and training camp because of hamstring injuries.

Perry
But for a player like Nick Perry, the Green Bay Packers outside linebacker who has yet to perform like the first-round pick that he was in 2012, the fact that he has been unable to participate in any on-field activities this offseason could prove to be another detriment to his development.

"I don't think it helps any player to miss a whole offseason," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Tuesday following the first practice of minicamp. "I talked about it last week with the staff. I told the team about it today. Our coaching staff took a different approach. You're accustomed to being a 15-week program. Obviously we're in a nine-week program going on here in Year 4 [of the new CBA]. To get all that work done, nothing changes. You have a season to get ready for. You have this much work. And to do it all in a nine-week period, and for a player to miss all of it, obviously it's not a good situation to be in.

"I think any of the players who did not take advantage of this nine-week opportunity or due to injury is definitely something they're going to have to work harder to catch up once training camp starts."

McCarthy would not specify the reason for Perry’s absence, but Perry missed five games last season because of foot and ankle injuries.

"I mean, he's injured, so. ..." McCarthy said.

There is frustration throughout the organization about Perry's inability to get on the field. He missed nearly half (15) of the 32 regular-season games in his two NFL seasons.

When asked what Perry is missing by being unable to practice, linebackers coach Winston Moss said: "Everything. Everything."

"It's unfortunate," Moss said. "It's disappointing."

In addition to Matthews and Perry, three other former draft picks have been unable to participate this offseason: defensive end Jerel Worthy, tight end Andrew Quarless and running back Johnathan Franklin.

Perhaps the biggest concern is about Franklin, the fourth-round pick from UCLA who finished his rookie season last year on injured reserve following a neck injury. The Packers are worried that Franklin's neck injury might be career-threatening. According to two people with knowledge of his situation, the Packers are putting Franklin through more tests to determine whether it's safe for him to continue playing.

Worthy, who last season played in only two games after coming off a torn ACL in the 2012 regular-season finale, missed the first two weeks of OTAs following the accidental shooting death of his grandmother in Ohio, but he also is dealing with an unspecified injury that is not believed to be related to his knee.

Quarless, who signed a two-year, $3 million contract to return to the Packers, also has not practiced. He missed all of the 2012 season because of a knee injury in 2011 but returned to play in every game last season, including 10 starts.
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Perhaps you've heard this before about the Green Bay Packers' defense: Everything will be fine as long as they're healthy.

The problem is – or has been – that they have not stayed healthy.

Last year, playmakers like Clay Matthews and Casey Hayward missed significant time because of injuries.

[+] EnlargeJamari Lattimore
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsThe ability to fill various roles will likely earn LB Jamari Lattimore additional playing time in 2014.
The year before, it was Desmond Bishop, Nick Perry and Charles Woodson.

In the Super Bowl season of 2010, it was Nick Barnett and Morgan Burnett, among others.

Coach Mike McCarthy has apparently grown tired of watching his defense struggle when players go down. Simply plugging in replacement players and asking them to do the same jobs has not always worked.

To combat that, he and defensive coordinator Dom Capers have agreed on some changes.

At the root of those changes isn't necessarily Capers' scheme or whether it will continue to be his traditional 3-4 alignment in his base package, or a regular nickel or dime in sub packages. But rather, it is a plan to develop players who can play multiple positions in different defensive looks in order to better combat issues that could arise during the season.

The buzzwords appear to be these: More personnel, less scheme.

To be sure, there will be changes in scheme – some of which McCarthy does not want to discuss before he unveils it in the regular season. Some of them might even be a drastic departure from what Capers has done since he arrived in Green Bay in 2009 and throughout his career.

"We've learned some hard lessons here of late, the last couple years of maybe playing some players that probably weren't quite ready and because of a scheme [that] we were playing," McCarthy said after the Packers' first open OTA practice on Thursday.

The addition of veteran pass-rusher Julius Peppers by way of free agency provides a window to the changes. Peppers, who has been a traditional defensive end in a 4-3 scheme for most of his career, will play multiple positions for the Packers. During Thursday's OTA, he lined up almost exclusively as an outside linebacker in a two-point stance, but don't be surprised if he moves inside and rushes from a three-point stance as well. The same could be said for Perry and Mike Neal.

Likewise, there could be additional roles for the inside linebackers. While Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk do not appear to be in danger of losing their spots, Jamari Lattimore could see the field more, too. He was featured prominently during Thursday's practice in a variety of roles.

All of that could free up the cornerstone of the defense, Matthews, to move around more, too.

"It just seems like a lot of the linebackers have taken on roles that require them not only to be the traditional 3-4 linebacker or 4-3 [linebacker] but to do both," Matthews said. "Whether that's one minute rushing against a tackle or playing out on the slot receiver. Really, I think it just provides a lot of versatility for the guys we have here.

"I think rather than making players fit into certain schemes, we're making those schemes fit around players now. I think it's great for the personnel that we have and what we’re trying to accomplish moving forward."

It's an effort to reverse a trend that has seen the Packers finish in the bottom third of the defensive rankings in two of the past three seasons and struggle in a pair of playoff losses to the San Francisco 49ers to end the past two seasons.

"I think we have to change something," Hawk said. "Not change, but we have to evolve and hone in on who knows what our plan is going in once the season comes, but we need to find a way to play better. We need to find a way to get off the field. I don't think you have to make any crazy, drastic changes. I don't think that's what we're going to do. But you have to find a way to evaluate what we did wrong and find a way to get better at that."

Capers did something similar earlier in his career. When he took over as the Jacksonville Jaguars' defensive coordinator in 1999, he inherited a roster filled with players who better fit the 4-3 scheme they had run previously.

So instead of trying to force feed players a defense that did not suit their skills, he adjusted.

That season, the Jaguars gave up the fewest points in the NFL and the fourth-fewest yards.

"I hope it works as well as it did that year," Capers said. "We've done that, really, since we've been here. The first year we came in, there's a reason why Charles Woodson was the Defensive Player of the Year. He's a good player, and you do a lot of good things to feature your best players."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Let's get this out of the way from the top: We know Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson does not draft for need -- or so he says.

But in the months leading up to this week's draft, Thompson and his scouts have spent hundreds of hours not only discussing the prospects who will be available to them but also their current roster and its strengths and weaknesses.

With that in mind, let's break the 12 position groups that make up the roster into four parts based on the following categories of draft needs.

We will define them this way:

Part 1: Negligible -- positions where there is little or no need.

Part 2: Non-essential -- positions where there is a need but it is not paramount to fill.

Part 3: Secondary -- positions where there is a need but not at the critical level.

Part 4: Pressing -- positions where it is imperative that help be found.

On Monday, we looked at the negligible needs, Nos. 10-12.

Next up are the nonessential needs.

7. Quarterback: It's too early to start thinking about a replacement for Aaron Rodgers, who turned 30 last December and is under contract through 2019, but they need to find the next Matt Flynn -- a long-term backup who can be counted on to win games just in case. Flynn is back under a one-year deal, but coach Mike McCarthy has said he would like to develop a young quarterback. Is that Scott Tolzien? Perhaps, but don't be surprised if they bring in a mid-to-late-round quarterback.

Possible players of interest: AJ McCarron, Alabama; Tom Savage, Pittsburgh; David Fales, San Jose State; Keith Wenning, Ball State; Brock Jensen, North Dakota State.

8. Cornerback: The Packers committed to Sam Shields this offseason with a four-year, $39 million contract just as free agency opened, but veteran Tramon Williams is in the final year of his contract. Casey Hayward is expected to be back from the hamstring injury that ruined his 2013 season, and there's depth with Micah Hyde, Davon House and James Nixon, although Hyde may move to safety. If the right corner fell to the Packers, Thompson might jump at the chance.

Possible players of interest: Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State; Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech; Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State; Keith McGill, Utah; Stan Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska.

9. Outside linebacker: Like defensive end, this is another position where there's plenty of talent depending on who lines up where. Beyond Pro Bowler Clay Matthews, there's Julius Peppers (who will play a combination DL-OLB), former first-round pick Nick Perry, former second-round pick Mike Neal and second-year players Andy Mulumba and Nate Palmer.

Possible players of interest: Anthony Barr, UCLA; Kyle Van Noy, BYU; Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech; Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Since 2010, when Julius Peppers arrived in Chicago, only two NFC North players have more sacks than him.

Peppers
Matthews
One of them is now his teammate.

That means the Green Bay Packers -- with the addition of Peppers -- have two of the top-three pass rushers in the division. Since Peppers' first season in the division, only Jared Allen, who left the Minnesota Vikings to sign with the Chicago Bears in free agency this offseason, has more sacks among NFC North players than Clay Matthews and his new teammate, Peppers (see accompanying chart).

The partnership between Matthews and Peppers should be mutually beneficial.

From Matthews' standpoint, he believes it will mean fewer double teams.

"This guy's (6-foot-7), 290 (pounds); I'm 6-4 on a good day and 255," Matthews said during a recent interview with USA Today. "They're going to double the big guy, and that leaves plenty of opportunities for me. I haven't had too many one-on-one opportunities, and when you do, you're expected to win -- at least in our locker room -- the majority of the time, because that's supposed to be a mismatch."

Matthews expects to be fully recovered from his second thumb injury -- the two of which kept him out of six games last season (including the playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers).

With Peppers and Matthews, the possibilities for defensive coordinator Dom Capers are many. He could line them up on the same side of the formation, forcing a guard or tight end to block one of them. He could separate them, leaving a dominant pass-rusher on each side. Or he could rush one or both of them from the inside.

"I'm excited about it," Matthews said. "Most people are curious as to how they're going to use him in a 3-4 scheme, but I don't think it matters. I think you line him up on the field in a zero-, one-, three-, five-, seven-, nine-technique -- he's going to get attention, and he's going to get double teams. It's going to create opportunities for one of us on the field to have our one-on-one matchups, and that's where that person needs to win."

Even if Peppers can only repeat his performance from last season, when he posted seven sacks, that would be more than any Packers' defensive lineman posted last season. Mike Daniels was tops with 6.5 sacks.

The Packers want to expand Daniels’ role this season and also hope to get more production from B.J. Raji, who will move back to nose tackle. They also plan to use Nick Perry and Mike Neal the same way they will use Peppers -- as a multi-position player they are calling the elephant spot.

"I think he's going to give teams a lot of trouble, especially with Clay, Nick Perry, Mike Neal, Mike Daniels," Packers cornerback Jarrett Bush said this week. "Within also the D-line, they can't just double Clay anymore, so he's going to wreak havoc over there. I played with him in Carolina before I came here to the Packers, so I got to see his ability over there in Carolina. He's definitely a force to be reckoned with. I think with Clay and the whole gang, I think we'll be a championship caliber team."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- With the bulk of the free-agent work done, it's a good time to recheck the Green Bay Packers' depth chart leading up to the May 8-10 NFL draft.

On Thursday, we broke down the way things look on offense.

Next up is the defense:

Defensive end: Datone Jones, Josh Boyd, Jerel Worthy.

[+] EnlargeDatone Jones
AP Photo/Morry GashThe Packers are counting on defensive end Datone Jones to rebound in his second season.
Analysis: The Packers have high hopes for Jones despite a disappointing rookie season in which the former first-round pick was slowed by an ankle injury and recorded just 3.5 sacks (two of which came in one game). "I feel he's one of those second-year players who [can] take a huge jump," coach Mike McCarthy said of Jones earlier this offseason. "That will be my expectations for him." Boyd, a fifth-round pick, actually saw more playing time late last season than Jones. Worthy played in only two games a year after he blew out his knee.

Defensive tackle: B.J. Raji, Mike Daniels, Letroy Guion.

Analysis: Moving Raji back to nose tackle on a full-time basis should help his production, which declined sharply over the last three years following a move to defensive end. Daniels was perhaps the team's most improved player last season, which should lead to an even bigger role this season. Guion, who was cut the Minnesota Vikings, will have to battle for a roster spot.

Elephant: Julius Peppers, Nick Perry, Mike Neal.

Analysis: Elephant is a catch-all term for the multiple positions this trio will play. They will be part outside linebacker, part defensive end and part defensive tackle. The addition of Peppers, who was signed last month after being released by the Chicago Bears, should boost the pass rush. Expect Perry to play more on the right side this season, where he was far more impactful last season. These players will actually be tutored by linebackers coach Winston Moss.

Inside linebacker: A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones, Jamari Lattimore, Sam Barrington, Victor Aiyewa.

Analysis: Hawk had perhaps his best season last year, but Jones was a disappointment after signing a three-year, $11.75 million contract and could be on shaky ground for a starting job. Lattimore, a restricted free agent who has yet to sign his tender, got some playing time last year while Jones was hurt and could push for the starting job. So could Barrington, a promising rookie who missed the second half of the season because of a hamstring injury.

Outside linebacker: Clay Matthews, Andy Mulumba, Nate Palmer, Chase Thomas.

Analysis: Neal and Perry played almost exclusively at outside linebacker last season, so there's a good chance they'll be a big part of this group again. But behind Matthews are a couple of second-year players, Mulumba and Palmer, who played more than anyone expected last year as a rookies. Mulumba, an undrafted free agent, played better than Palmer, a sixth-round pick. Thomas was signed early in the offseason off the street after spending most of last season on the Atlanta Falcons' practice squad.

Safeties: Morgan Burnett, Sean Richardson, Chris Banjo.

Analysis: Easily the thinnest position on the roster, there's still likely to be several additions here, probably via the draft. However, McCarthy said cornerback Micah Hyde will get some work at safety. Whether he's a candidate to start next to Burnett (a strong safety), however, remains to be seen. Burnett needs to bounce back from a disappointing season, but there's little reason to think his job is in jeopardy. Richardson returned late last season from a serious neck injury and showed promise. Banjo played more early in the season than he did late last year.

Cornerbacks: Sam Shields, Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward, Micah Hyde, Jarrett Bush, Davon House, James Nixon, Jumel Rolle, Antonio Dennard.

Analysis: This is among the Packers' deepest positions thanks to the return of Shields, who signed a four-year, $39 million contract, and Hayward, who is expected to be healthy after a hamstring injury limited him to just three games last season. Williams closed the season playing perhaps as well as he did during the Super Bowl season of 2010, which is why they kept him despite a $7.5 million salary. Bush had his best season in coverage last year, while House was a disappointment. Nixon's speed makes him an intriguing prospect. Rolle was promoted from the practice squad late last season, while Dennard joined the practice squad late last season.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers signed Julius Peppers and Letroy Guion in free agency to bolster their defensive line, not necessarily to replace certain players.

That was the takeaway from comments coach Mike McCarthy made at the NFL annual meetings this week when asked about the possibility that free-agent defensive linemen Johnny Jolly and Ryan Pickett could return to Green Bay.

Both remain on the open market.

However, their situations are different.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Jolly
AP Photo/Tom LynnJohnny Jolly recently was cleared to resume normal offseason workouts after neck surgery in January.
Jolly's is mostly a medical one. He had neck surgery in January to repair a bulging disc that bothered him late last season. Doctors fused together his C-5 and C-6 vertebrae using bone from his hip. He recently was cleared to resume normal offseason workouts.

McCarthy said the Packers remain interested in bringing back the 31-year-old, who returned to football last season after sitting out for three years while serving a suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy and also spending time in prison.

"Yeah, if it definitely works out, I mean we're monitoring that," McCarthy said. "I think Johnny did a nice job last year. You have to be very pleased for where he started and where he finished. I think he gave us every inch of what he had and then some. I was very pleased with Johnny's contribution last year."

Jolly played last season for the veteran’s minimum of $715,000.

Pickett, 34, made $6.2 million in base salary and bonuses last season in the final year of a four-year, $24.925 million deal. Although he played in all 16 games for the second straight season and missed only four games during his most recent contract, his production dropped off last season, when he recorded only 19 tackles, his fewest since his rookie season of 2001.

"We'll watch what's going on with Ryan," McCarthy said.

There might not be room on the roster for both Jolly and Pickett. Even though McCarthy said Peppers will work mostly with the linebackers, he still has a deep defensive line group. The Packers return Josh Boyd, Mike Daniels, Datone Jones and Jerel Worthy -- all four of which are still on their rookie contracts. They also plan to return Mike Neal back to the defensive line, at least on a part-time basis, after playing almost exclusively at outside linebacker last season. Nick Perry and Peppers also could split time between the two spots in what McCarthy calls the elephant position.

The Packers also re-signed nose tackle B.J. Raji and brought in Guion, who played for the Minnesota Vikings.

"Let's not forget about Letroy," McCarthy said. "I thought he was an excellent acquisition that we haven't even brought up. I thought he's played very well the last three times we played the Vikings. So he's been an excellent addition to our defensive front."
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 Green Bay Packers signed Julius Peppers to do one thing: rush the quarterback.

How they plan to use the 34-year-old defensive end in their scheme, however, is not yet clear.

Peppers has not been available to reporters since he signed a three-year, $30 million contract on Saturday, but he did speak briefly to the team's website and revealed a little bit about what coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers have discussed for him.

[+] EnlargeJulius Peppers
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsJulius Peppers may line up in the 'elephant' position for the Packers.
"I'm going to let Coach McCarthy deal with questions about the position and the scheme," Peppers told Packers.com. "I'm not really sure. We haven't talked in detail about what the plan is going to be for me, but I can say it's going to be something different.”

McCarthy's next media appearance likely will come at the NFL annual meetings next week in Orlando, Fla.

Early this offseason, well before the Packers even knew Peppers would be available, McCarthy said he and Capers remained committed to the 3-4 defense as their base scheme but planned several tweaks in order to better utilize their personnel and remain multiple in their looks even if injuries hit like they did last season.

"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," McCarthy said at the time.

Peppers played in a 4-3 during his four seasons with the Chicago Bears and at 6-foot-7 and 287 pounds, he was an ideal defensive end in that scheme. However, in a 3-4 base defense the ends don't line up as wide as they do in a 4-3. And in nickel and dime situations, they move inside even more. Early in Peppers' career, in an ESPN.com story about the differences between ends in the two schemes, he was quoted as saying he preferred to play outside rather inside like 3-4 ends do.

"I really don't like being down inside," Peppers said at the time. "I feel like when I'm down in that area like a tackle, I don't feel like I'm being used properly. It's hard, because you have to be a lot more run conscious and a lot more physical, which, being physical, that's no problem for me. But I'd rather get on the edge and rush the passer."

What Peppers described as being ideal is essentially the 7-technique position in which a pass-rusher lines up on the inside shoulder of a tight end. McCarthy calls that the elephant position, and it's a spot he talked last month about using this season.

Peppers could be perfect for that role and could be used in a rotation with Mike Neal and Nick Perry.

Regardless of how the Packers use him, they expect more pressure from their defensive front this season. Although last season Peppers registered only seven sacks (tied for the second-lowest total of his 12-year career) despite playing in every game, that total would have ranked second on the Packers behind Clay Matthews (7.5) and first among the team's defensive linemen.
 

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Who says Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson doesn't sign any free agents?

Yes, you've heard that line before, but almost every time it should have been hashtagged with this: #sarcasm. How else can you explain a signing such as Raymond Webber?

Who?

Exactly.

No hashtag needed this time.

Not for Julius Peppers, who signed a three-year, $30 million contract Saturday to continue his career in Green Bay.

This is more than a little splash. It's cannonball-sized, especially for Thompson, who specializes in no-name signings such as Webber, a street free-agent tight end whose signing last month barely made a ripple.

Not since 2006, when Thompson signed cornerback Charles Woodson, has he made a move like this. This won't count as a true unrestricted-free-agent signing, at least not under the terms of the NFL's formula for awarding compensatory draft picks, because Peppers was released last week by the Chicago Bears.

Forget technicalities. This was a significant -- and much-needed -- move for a defense that sank to 25th in the NFL last season and needs an infusion of playmakers.

There's plenty still to be learned about Peppers, including how much the eight-time Pro Bowl defensive end still has left at age 34 and where exactly he will play in Dom Capers' 3-4 defensive scheme.

He's coming off his lowest sack total (7.0) since 2007, but, in his past three seasons combined with the Bears, he has 29.5 sacks. In his 12 NFL seasons, he has had fewer than 10 sacks only three times (2003, 2007 and last year), and he hasn't missed a game since 2007.

At 6-foot-7 and 287 pounds, Peppers has been an ideal 4-3 pass-rushing defensive end. But defensive ends in a 3-4 scheme don't typically command $10 million average salaries because they're not asked to jet up the field and pile up sacks like 4-3 ends.

Perhaps Capers will use Peppers in the elephant end position coach Mike McCarthy recently discussed as a possibility for Nick Perry and Mike Neal, both of whom can be considered hybrid defensive end/outside linebackers.

The possibilities could be endless.

Regardless of how Capers uses Peppers, it should help outside linebacker Clay Matthews. Not that teams won't still double-team Matthews, but say Capers lines up Peppers and Matthews on the same side of the formation. What's an offensive coordinator to do?

Peppers nearly ruined the Packers' 2013 season. Had fullback John Kuhn not gotten the slightest of chip blocks on Peppers in the final minute of the regular-season finale at Soldier Field, Peppers would have drilled quarterback Aaron Rodgers before he could have released the 48-yard bomb to Randall Cobb for the game-winning and NFC North-winning touchdown pass.

He could be just what the Packers need in 2014.

Thompson might be done in free agency for this season. For that matter, he might be done in free agency for next season and the one after that. But don't say he doesn't sign free agents. Hashtag: #serious

SPONSORED HEADLINES

NFL SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 10/16
Sunday, 10/19
Monday, 10/20
WEEKLY LEADERS