Packers defense banks on reserves
And, as the Packers’ defensive coordinator likes to say, his backups proved the game wasn’t too big for them.
Capers expects his defense to be tested by injuries again this year—that’s just life in the NFL. And with a few more unproven players in the middle of his depth chart, some of whom have been dealing with injuries in training camp, Capers doesn’t quite know what to expect.
“It’s younger depth this year,” Capers said. “And that can be a plus. Because you’ve got to constantly bring young guys along. I think if you get your system going, that’s what you’d like to have. But, there’s always going to be questions—how fast are you going to have to put those guys on the field?”
Capers has his eye on defensive end and cornerback, where young backups will figure prominently in the team’s plans.
Although the Packers’ defensive starters will look very familiar to fans when they take the field in the Sept. 8 opener against New Orleans, any early season injuries will test the ability of Capers and his staff to get those young players ready.
“I think we’ve got some younger guys that we think are potentially ascending guys,” Capers said. “Now the challenge to us is, how soon do we have to use them? And how prepared are they, and how ready are they for the bright lights once they’re thrown into the fray? Because it’ll be just a matter of time before some of those guys are playing for us.”
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said the team has scheduled extra meeting time with young players throughout training camp to help get them ready.
“We’re going to be a young team,” McCarthy said. “That is just the way our program is built. We don’t go out and sign 20 veterans every year.”
Preparing young players was far more difficult this year because of the NFL lockout, which wiped out an entire offseason of team-organized workouts.
Capers said that when the Packers drafted safety Morgan Burnett in the third round last year, they were able to give him time with the first-team defense during offseason workouts. By the time Burnett got to training camp, Capers said he had taken about 1,700 snaps in practice already.
“Well, the guys this year had zero,” Capers said. “There’s a big difference, especially if that guy’s going to have to factor in to playing for you early in the season. Now, if it’s not until a half, three quarters of the way through the season, you’ve got a little better feel for what you’ve got.”
It’s a challenge Capers welcomes.
“To me, that’s what coaching is all about,” Capers said. “You take a guy from point A, to, where do you take him to? The challenge is we’ve got to continue to push ourselves as coaches to spend the extra time with these guys.”
Capers still wants to see more from young players who have been dealing with injuries, such as defensive linemen Mike Neal (knee) and C.J. Wilson (concussion) and cornerback Davon House (hamstring). Neal is not expected to play in Thursday night’s preseason finale against Kansas City.
Although relying on young players means dealing with uncertainty, Capers sees a significant upside: Young backups usually are hungry backups.
“The good thing is, once they figure it out, you’ve got a young guy—and it’s a young man’s game,” Capers said. “It’s different if you’ve got veteran backups that maybe are getting up there in their career. A lot of times, they aren’t as happy being backups either, where young guys, they’re hungry, they’ve got that drive and desire.”