Report: McCarthy will be more involved on defense
By CHRIS HAVEL
Micah Hyde may move to safety, David Bakhtiari will stay put at left tackle, Bryan Bulaga probably will line up at right tackle and Jermichael Finley still figures in the mix at tight end.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy strongly suggested as much to reporters during the annual NFL Scouting Combine held this past weekend at Indianapolis.
McCarthy also defended incumbent safety Morgan Burnett’s play. If only Burnett had defended opponents as vigorously. In the process, McCarthy acknowledged the defense needs more production from both of its safeties, and hinted that poor play opposite Burnett didn’t help.
“We need more production next to Morgan,” McCarthy told ESPN. “Which I think definitely would help him.”
The Packers played musical safeties opposite Burnett last year. They tried and eventually released 2012 fourth-round pick Jerron McMillian. They also lined up with M.D. Jennings and Sean Richardson at the spot. The fact that McCarthy defended Burnett – as one would expect – but also acknowledged the apparent problems suggests change.
That might involve Hyde, a second-year player from Iowa, who made a stellar first impression as a rookie. His playmaking skills, sure tackling and return ability caused his value to soar. However, moving Hyde doesn’t preclude Packers GM Ted Thompson from selecting a safety in the early rounds of the May draft.
The same can be said of tight end. The Packers received excellent news this week from Finley’s neurosurgeon and the team’s physicians. It appears there will be a very good chance that Finley will be cleared to play again. Furthermore, it seems plausible that he will do so in a Packers uniform.
Trying to determine a fair contract won’t be easy under the circumstances. However, if the Packers offer Finley an incentive-laden contract plus the chance to resume his career here he might accept it. Re-signing Finley would be the right move, but the Packers shouldn’t stop there. They should also draft a tight end in the first three rounds.
Too many times the Packers’ offense has been, well, hamstrung by injuries. It has to be maddening to work on specific plays all week, only to have an injury derail the game plan before the team takes the field.
McCarthy had to use half his playbook, or less, too many times. Because the tight end is such a key position in the offense Green Bay can’t afford to let one injury determine how it conducts its business.
Several mock drafts have the Packers selecting a tight end. The best bets are North Carolina’s Eric Ebron or Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins, although the position is deep and talented this year.
The Packers interviewed Ebron at the combine as part of doing their due diligence.
Realistically, the Packers’ greatest needs are a safety, a defensive lineman and a tight end. If the Packers hit on all three and make the necessary adjustments with returning players it could be a big year.
McCarthy’s decision to become more involved in the defense is wise. As he told reporters, he can’t do both (offense and defense), but he also has to walk the balance between assisting and ignoring the defense. It also sends a message to the locker room that the highest standards of execution are going to be demanded on offense and defense.
Too many times the “Let Aaron and the offense do it” mentality prevailed.
The Packers plan other more subtle changes.
Nick Perry might be moved to an “elephant” or 7 technique position in which he lines up inside the tight end. He can play the run, chip the tight end and rush the passer, or drop into coverage. Mostly, he’ll be expected to tackle the runner on the way to the quarterback. It is a more natural position for Perry than trying to cover tight ends or backs in space.
The Packers, according to McCarthy, spent considerable time practicing with the “elephant” position during training camp. A litany of injuries curtailed that initiative and left Mike Neal and others out of position.
In a perfect NFL world, Thompson’s 2014 draft would unfold as follows:
- First round: The highest-rated player at safety or defensive line.
- Second round: Trade up into a late first- or an early second-round slot and select the best tight end available.
- Third round: Draft either the safety or defensive lineman – whichever the Packers didn’t get in the first round.
The idea of trading up at a reasonable price is appealing because the draft IS the Packers’ primary way of adding impact players.