Time To Adjust

With the unfortunate loss of Al Harris and Aaron Kampman for the season following the win over San Francisco, changes are going to have to be made moving forward to continue playing at the level we were at. Right now, more than ever, is when experienced coordinators with good football minds earn their paycheck. What sort of changes might we see out of Dom Capers?

Replacing Aaron Kampman:

Replacing Aaron might be easier than fans realize. This is one place where the 3-4 scheme really shines. The fluidity of the scheme allows for very different player types to be successful in the outside linebacker role, bringing different skill sets to the table. Many of the players that play OLB have to be hidden by scheme to some degree, and Kampman was no different. Clay is one of the rare 3-4 OLB’s that seems equally at home in virtually any role.

It was obvious that one of the places that Kampman was schematically hidden was in pass coverage. He dropped on occasion, but generally that was limited to little zone drops. He was not left in trail technique coverage on fast TE’s splitting the seam, and did not move over to press and bracket cover a WR. This is in very sharp contrast to Clay Matthews, who is trusted to do all of these tasks.

Kampman was also helped rushing the passer both by occasionally playing a 3-3-5 defense that put his hand in the dirt, and by overall maintaining a consistent launch point without an excess of twisting and stunting. In other words, things that he has been comfortable with. It has helped, though it has limited some of the overall defensive options.

Replacing Kampman most likely will be rookie Brad Jones, though Brady Poppinga and Jeremy Thompson could see time as well. Brad couldn’t be more different than Kampman, which could work to Dom’s advantage in a very big way. Hopefully this is where Dom Capers separates himself from former DC Bob Sanders. Brad is not the kind of player that can or should be plugged in to do the tasks that Kampman did the same way he did them. But on the flipside, he does open up a lot of things that were not previously possible.

Brad Jones is extremely fast and agile, and is especially noted for his ability to drop into coverage. Like Clay he can drop extremely deep from the 3-4 OLB position, and has the ability to stay with WR’s and TE’s, at least when he has some help. Dom almost surely will be much more comfortable with him in coverage, and won’t be consistently making an effort to have him rush the passer, limiting his coverage to the bare minimum as he was with Kampman. Of course the effect of this will be to enable more blitzing/zone blitzing. Clay will likely get to rush more, but I think that the biggest beneficiaries will be the ILB’s, I suspect that we will see them rush a good bit more.

Having been a 3-4 OLB, Brad likewise was not married to a small little plot of land on the line most of his career. I suspect that his launch point will not be as rigid as Kampman’s was, and be more like Clay, who moves around in the formation a great deal. This is greatly aided by the defensive line; they are playing at a level where the OLB’s don’t have to be extra DE’s on run plays, freeing the OLB’s up to shut down any attempts to bounce run plays outside, or pursue the tackle quickly. Every one of our top 4 defensive lineman can hold his ground in the face of a double team. Brad’s quickness will allow Dom to move him around a bit to probe for pass rushing weaknesses, and to allow for more stunting and combo rushing, where instead of an every man for himself, the LDE (typically Jolly) attempts to open a lane for the OLB moreso than plow through himself. The faster the OLB, the more effective that is.

While changes will be necessary, changes can be made to insert Brad Jones into the lineup without a big downgrade in defensive quality. Brad has a different skill set and will have to be used a different way, but the overall effect should hopefully be minimized. however it may change the way things “look”.

Replacing Al Harris:

This should almost be rephrased “replacing Tramon Williams”. Replacing Al should be the easy part, plug in Tramon, but replacing Tramon will be a task.

Dom can go two completely different directions with this. He can do exactly what Bob Sanders did, and literally replace Al with Tramon, placing him at the RCB spot over the split end on the sideline, or he can take the approach to keep Tramon doing what he has been doing, at least in nickle+ defense, only moving him over to Al’s spot on base defense. Either option should be equally viable, the route chosen will largely depend on how Dom adjusts to cope with the changes.

Al’s position at RCB is unique in that the route tree used by most teams is somewhat more limited. Few QB’s roll to their left. The timing of read progressions and pass patterns cuts out a good amount of intermediate routes, and if the QB turns to watch his split end, he is also watching his best pass protector, turning his back on some of his worst.

Though our defense plays all sorts of different coverages, if you had to group them into classifications, Al would be more of a man guy, Tramon more of a zone guy, and Woodson more of a rover. Al played the least amount of underneath zone of the 3. When rolling a S into the box or forward out wide, and using a CB as a S in a cover-2, 3, or 4, (forms of sky and cloud coverage), Al was typically a bail corner covering a deep zone, with LB’s or S’s covering underneath. Tramon bails much less, instead if one corner is used in the short zones more than others, Tramon is that guy. Whereas Woodson does a little of everything, generally in an effort to have him where the offense most wants to go.

When Tramon did fill in for Al last season, he did an excellent job basically doing Al’s job. In fact there seemed to be some differences where we might actually have had better pass defense, as we did run a little more zone during that time, not necessarily becasue Tramon is better in zone, but because he seems at home doing either, whereas Al definitely (at least in Sanders’ defense) was more at home in man.

One thing that we will likely see, with the hopeful return of Chillar soon, and Jones at OLB, is return to sparse dime defense. Prior to Chillar’s injury Green Bay rarely ran dime defense, even agaisnt 4-5 WR sets. The 4th CB did not see the field a whole lot.

If we do put Tramon in Al’s spot and replace Tramon, likely an increased amount of LB/S bracketing will be required. Which could mean less play in the box by Bigby and more zone drops by the LOLB. If we replace Al’s spot and keep Tramon in his, we are probably looking at 2 different players dedicated to the sideline, either CB shallow S deep, or CB deep S/LB shallow in distinct zones.

Whichever direction Dom goes, replacing Al wil surely stress our secondary.

The Potential Positives:

While the negatives of these injuries are obvious, some positives may be taken away.

Tramon will be a free agent again next year. This year he played for just over the tender amount. This is his time to grab hold of the starting job for good (even if Al returns, I don’t think that he will return as a starter). This gives Ted and his staff 6 games to determine just how much Tramon is worth, and if he is a viable starter. I’d like to think, if he makes the most of this situation that Ted will not tag him again, instead giving him a full starting CB contract while his value is still on the low end of starting CB’s.

It also gives Ted a chance to evaluate Bush as a defensive back. I doubt that he gets another chance. He’s been developing too long, this is a seize the moment or go away couple of games for him. If he can hold his own as the 3rd CB, he’ll likely stick. If someone else is given a shot after he is, because he didn’t seize the job, I suspect that this will be his last year. He have replacements at ST gunner now; his hold on a roster spot is much more tenuous than it has been.

With free agency on the horizon for Kampman, few Packer fans seriously thought that he would return to the team. The prevailing though being that he would be franchise tagged and traded (similar to Corey Williams) to a team that runs a 4-3 defense. With this injury he now has very little trade value and almost surely will not be franchised, chances are he simply leaves as a free agent.

This means that Kampman will need to be replaced long term this offseason. That task is much easier if Brad Jones (or Jeremy Thompson/Brady Poppinga) shows that they belong on the field this season, and that they are the long term solution. If not I suspect that free agency and/or higher draft picks will be used to fill this spot.

Young guys stepping up to fill an injury void and impressing is one of the primary ways that players become full time starters in this league. Lets keep our fingers crossed that we have the good fortune of that occurring at both spots for us. The players behind our lost starters are certainly physically talented enough to do so, it remains to be seen thather they put it all together.


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