Chillar set for extended duties
In Capers’ mind, he compared what was happening with the linebackers to what happened with the safeties last season, his first as the team’s defensive coordinator.
“I feel better today than I did a day or two ago,” Capers said Tuesday. “We’ve got to make sure we’re investing reps here on guys that are going to be playing for us.”
As much time as coaches in the National Football League devote to meetings regarding starting lineups and playing time, there are instances almost every year in which the better idea isn’t hatched until well after the fact.
Take the safety position last year. Capers somewhat ruefully recalled all the practice time that was allocated to free agent Anthony Smith, a former Steeler, and Aaron Rouse.
Smith was waived Sept. 5, the same day safety Derrick Martin was acquired from Baltimore. Rouse was cut three days after he started for injured Atari Bigby against Cincinnati on Sept. 20, the same afternoon Jarrett Bush had to replace injured Nick Collins.
A contributing factor for the Packers’ 2-2 start was the failure of their backup safeties in the Cincinnati game and at Minnesota on Oct. 5, when Martin also was overmatched starting for Bigby.
“All those reps we invested in training camp went out the window,” Capers remembered grimly. “I hope we’ll do a better job this year than we did last year.”
As Capers sees it, a feeling-out process is almost inevitable when a new group of coaches takes over a platoon.
“I saw this with two expansion teams,” Capers said. “I saw it the first year in Pittsburgh (1992). We were a different team than we were in training camp because we didn’t quite know our personnel.
”The second year we were closer, and the third year we knew exactly what we had. That’s when the ’Blitzburgh’ stuff got started. Every rep we invested in training camp paid off for us during the season.“
Capers didn’t name names, but the moves that he and coach Mike McCarthy have made at linebacker since Sunday night were evidence that they were done giving extensive turns in practice with the No. 1’s to outside linebacker Brady Poppinga. There also would be fewer meaningful reps for backups Cyril Obiozor, Robert Francois and Frank Zombo.
The coaches entered camp seemingly hopeful with Brad Jones at left outside linebacker opposite Clay Matthews in both the base (3-4) and nickel (4-2) defenses. When Jones went out with a strained back Saturday afternoon, Poppinga went right in just as he had throughout the off-season.
Poppinga, 30, had drawn praise from position coach Kevin Greene for his physical nature at the point of attack and less robotic pass rushes. But after thinking about a future outside with the workmanlike Poppinga and the uncertain health of Jones, the staff tried something different.
Capers had never played Brandon Chillar at outside linebacker. But Chillar worked some on the outside Sunday night and, by Tuesday night, he ran with the starters for the entire practice at right outside linebacker in both base and nickel.
With Chillar on the right side, the 258-pound Matthews moved to the left outside, which made perfect sense in order to get the bigger body aligned against the opponent’s strong-side running game. Matthews said he had no preference regarding side.
With Chillar outside in nickel, the logical player to fill his nickel spot inside alongside Nick Barnett would have been A.J. Hawk. McCarthy had employed Hawk in that role from 2006 until early ’09.
This time, McCarthy and Capers inserted Desmond Bishop, a little-used star of past Augusts, and not Hawk.
Is Capers serious about playing Chillar at outside linebacker in both base and nickel?
”Well, we’re experimenting,“ he said. ”But I’m serious in that if it looks good it could happen. I think you’ll see Chillar going back and forth (inside, outside). We’ve got to try and find our best combinations of guys.“
Not only is Chillar a more talented player than Poppinga, there’s the matter of the four-year, $21 million contract the club gave him Dec. 12. If they thought Chillar worthy of the money, they should regard him as a starter.
Chillar was a two-year starter on the strong side in a 4-3 for St. Louis in 2006-’07 and also played extensively outside in nickel.
“I just think he’s an athletic guy, and I’m always looking for ways to increase our athleticism,” Capers said. “He can rush. He can drop.”
Chillar is an adequate interior blitzer and inside run-down player. Can he put his hand down and make headway rushing against massive left tackles? Can he get down and dirty cracking helmets against double teams as a base run-down player from an on-line position?
That’s what McCarthy, Capers and Greene intend to find out.
Bishop should play the run just fine from inside in the nickel. He will have to time his blitzes much better and be more in tune with the game plan than he was in ’09.
It really won’t work, however, if the Packers find themselves giving up too much in coverage with Bishop in Chillar’s old nickel role.
Some will remember Bishop being embarrassed in coverage by Houston in December 2008. Bishop ran 40 yards in 4.8 seconds weighing 239, also his current weight, at the combine in 2007. Chillar’s 40 clocking at 253 pounds coming out of UCLA in 2004 was 4.75.
“One, the 40 is not really about how fast you are,” Bishop said. “It’s a lot about technique. Two, I wouldn’t say Chillar is faster than me. The times I did get in (last season), check the film how I cover. I can cover.”