Packers use draft to bolster offense
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
GREEN BAY--There has been one constant during the Green Bay Packers’ modern-day renaissance—now in its third decade with no signs of fatigue—and that is the presence of a scary-good offense under the direction of an elite quarterback.
It has been that way since Ron Wolf and Mike Holmgren flipped around the sorry fortunes of the organization in the early 1990s and has continued through a Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy partnership that has produced seven winning seasons, six playoff appearances and a Super Bowl Championship in eight years.
To maintain that success, you have to feed the beast even when the belly seems pretty full.
Facing numerous soft spots in the midsection of the defense, Thompson came out of his 10th NFL draft with a nice offering at the top for defensive coordinator Dom Capers.
But the meat of this class was fuel for McCarthy’s offense, which last year ranked third in the NFL in total yards and tied with the Super Bowl-champion Seattle Seahawks for eighth in points per game. Three wide receivers, a tight end and a center were what Thompson rang up in the three days of the draft.
The three receivers—Fresno State’s Davante Adams (first round), Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis (fifth round) and Saginaw Valley State’s Jeff Jannis (seventh round)—combined for 292 receptions and 45 touchdowns last season. Not during their entire tenures—in 2013.
“First off, all the players that were drafted, it definitely gives us a lot of competition, particularly at the wide receiver position,” McCarthy said. “I don’t think you ever go into the draft and put limits or expectations on how much competition you’re trying to create in one specific area.
“It had a lot to do with the way the board was set. It’s really the responsibility of the coaches (to deal with it). Sometimes, (like) last year, we were heavier on defense than we were on offense. I think that’s how the draft fell.”
But even if offense was the strength of this draft, the Packers need help on defense. They ranked 25th in yards allowed and 24th in points per game allowed. That is not a recipe for beating the likes of the Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers.
At the top of the draft, Thompson delivered safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who not only was justified being the 21st pick in the draft but served a dire need for the Packers. There’s no telling what Thompson might have done had he not gotten Clinton-Dix.
“I don’t know,” Thompson said. “I think when you do your ratings, you have certain levels of certainty. We felt very good about Ha Ha.
“And we feel good about his ability to come in and play. I think most of the time at all of the different positions as you go down the board, I think there’s greater risk that they won’t be able to play. So we feel fairly certain Ha Ha will able to contribute.”
In other words, if Thompson hadn’t landed Clinton-Dix, Capers would have been looking for a starting safety from the group currently in camp. If he thought he could find a competent starter there, he never would have been in need of someone like Clinton-Dix.
But even with the addition of someone who could help the team right away—it’s not a given but somewhat of an expectation—it doesn’t mean the defense is going to turn itself around completely. The strength of this draft was on offense and there weren’t many safeties or dominant defensive linemen whot could help Thompson.
“I’ve always felt that it’s really important to make sure you’re dialed into the people that are here and you know they’re going to be here,” McCarthy said when asked about whether the defense would be partially built with Clinton-Dix in mind. “So with that being said, we’re not a very vanilla, just a line-up-and-play-one-way (team) and draft guys to fit that particular way.
“We’re a multiple-scheme offense and defense. We’re a fundamental focus on special teams. With that being said, I think it really fits our draft philosophy. We just want to draft good football players. It sounds simple, it sounds basic. But that’s really the thought process. So when you draft a good defensive player, I always view it as the responsibility of the coordinators to make sure we have room for that guy, within our scheme packages.”
McCarthy said that with the addition of veterans such as Julius Peppers and Letroy Guion and the return of free agents Sam Shields, Mike Neal and B.J. Raji, he expects his defense to be better. He got some help in the form of defensive end Khyri Thornton, linebacker Carl Bradford and cornerback Demetri Goodson, but that isn’t the same as adding a couple of elite rookies.
“We’re going to be a better defense this year,” McCarthy said. “You can write that in big letters. I think we said something about that last year. Our defensive staff has … been very diligent in preparing the personnel groups, the expectations and how we’re going to package these guys, so I feel with that going into the off-season program, we have an opportunity to be better.
“Health needs to be better, that will definitely help us. The addition of our free agents and a couple more guys, and hey let’s not forget the free-agent process is still going on right now. We still may be able to add a couple guys and we’ve done very well in the college free-agent market too. We’ll be a better defense this year.”