Green Bay Packers’ fans may still have nightmares about the treacherous blowout loss to the San Francisco 49ers. The Packers’ defense was absolutely lost against Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers, giving up 579 total yards of offense and 323 rushing yards. This has been a cause for concern since 2012 when the Packers ranked dead last in the NFL in passing defense and routinely missed tackles and blew assignments. After spending their first six draft picks on defensive players before the 2012 season the Packers seemed determined to fix their defense, but the playoff loss to the 49ers and Adrian Peterson’s three games against the Packers showed that the defense still needs work. Training camp will be the time for players to step up and make a name for themselves for the Packers. Let’s take a look at some under the radar defensive players who could step up and make an immediate impact this season.
Nick Perry seems to be the forgotten man in Green Bay, but his play year could be the most crucial in order for the Packers to succeed. The 6’3 265 lbs second year player out of USC was the Packers’ first round pick just last year, but a wrist injury caused him to miss ten regular season games and the two playoff games. Last year was Perry’s first year playing LB and standing up in a two-point stance, and he did struggle with the transition. Perry was forced into situations, such as pass coverage, that were uncomfortable and new to him and fans became frustrated with his play and the injury. Perry did flash signs of potential and displayed a solid bull rush move in limited playing time. Perry has the size and athleticism to not only play the run but also develop into a top-tier pass rusher (just ask Andrew Luck).
Jerron McMillan/M.D. Jennings
Ever since Nick Collins suffered a career-ending neck injury, the Packers have been looking for a replacement at safety to pair with Morgan Burnett. No big name player has been brought in, and the Packers have passed on safeties in the top half of the draft. This leaves three players vying for the starting position, but it’s safe to say that at least two, and possibly all three, of these safeties will receive crucial playing time. McMillan, 5’11 203 lbs, was drafted out of Maine last year in the fourth round. The aggressive safety is a good tackler who showed a knack for the football on passing downs (five passes defended, one INT), and Packers’ fans should expect an improvement in his play from year one to year two. Jennings is mostly remembered for his “interception” against the Seahawks last year, but his play was decent in his first full year of receiving playing time on defense. Jennings was a reliable defender whose play picked up as the season went on, and the McMillan/Jennings combo will continue to be a one-two combo this year next to starter Morgan Burnett.
The former second round pick in 2010 has left many Packers’ fans irritated and upset. Neal was brought in to add an athletic pass rusher to the defensive line, but throughout his career he has battled countless injuries that have kept him off the field. This past season, after serving a four game suspension, Neal finally started to show why the Packers drafted him so high when he racked up 4.5 sacks in 12 games. The versatile lineman can rush from the outside or inside, and his long arms and nonstop motor make him a threat where ever he lines up. The Packers have even lined the 285 lbs lineman at OLB this offseason so they can find more situations to get him on the field. With the Packers looking to become more aggressive upfront, Neal’s role on the defense could take a huge jump.
Do fans remember that Davon House would have been the Packers’ week one starter if it wasn’t for a shoulder injury in training camp? House, 24, was having an outstanding training camp before the injury and the 6’0 195 lbs corner was making a name for himself with his ball skills and tight coverage. House shines in man coverage and is extremely aggressive, something that the Packers’ secondary has lacked in the past few years. The Packers’ corner group is extremely talented this year with the likes of veteran Tramon Williams, Casey Heyward, and Sam Shields, but House will play a vital role on the defense and no one should be surprised if House beats out Williams and Shields for the starting spot next year.
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