Mike Pettine will need all tricks to boost Green Bay Packers’ rush – Green Bay Packers Blog
GREEN BAY, Wis. — If Mike Pettine can put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks with essentially the same collection of edge rushers from last year, then the Green Bay Packers‘ new defensive coordinator should earn a new nickname: Magic Mike.
For it might require smoke and mirrors given that he won’t have much more to work with than what the fired Dom Capers had in that department last season.
In a draft so weak on outside pass rushers that there was only one consensus stud in the first round — N.C. State’s Bradley Chubb, who went No. 5 overall to the Broncos — Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst didn’t have one that he deemed worthy of taking with any of his first 10 picks. He bypassed the edge rusher position until his 11th and final selection — No. 248 overall — when he finally felt the value was right and took Kendall Donnerson, an outside linebacker from Southeast Missouri State.
Yes, Gutekunst drafted another linebacker, Vanderbilt’s Oren Burks in the third round, but the Packers view him as an inside player and not an edge rusher.
“I wouldn’t use the term bypass,” Gutekunst said after the draft. “We tried to let the board come to us like we always do. If it’s not there, it’s not there. And the value of the players that we picked were just higher-valued players than the pass-rushers that were on the board.”
The debate over whether poor cornerback play or the lack of a consistent pass rush hampered the Packers’ 23rd-ranked defense more last season can rage on, but it’s clear Gutekunst felt the better value was in the cornerback market. He picked Louisville’s Jaire Alexander in the first round (No. 18 overall) and Iowa’s Josh Jackson in the second (No. 45).
It marked the sixth and seventh times in the past five drafts that the Packers used a first- or second-round pick on a defensive back. All remain on the roster except 2015 first-round pick Damarious Randall, who was traded to the Browns in March, but only safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has made a Pro Bowl.
It prompted one NFL personnel executive to tell ESPN’s Mike Sando: “I just want to know how many years Green Bay is going to continue to burn high draft capital on the defensive backs before the defense becomes formidable against the pass… They play s—ty defense. Give them credit for trying, at least.”
The Packers haven’t put the same resources into the edge-rusher position. Kyler Fackrell, a third-round pick in 2016, remains the highest pick they have used on that position since 2012’s first-round pick Nick Perry.
“The reality is we drafted 11 players,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said shortly after the draft. “Player acquisition is still going on as we speak and it will continue all the way up to training camp. So I get it. Pass rush is something that we want to add more competition to and hopefully that will be answered as we move forward.”
The Packers’ main pass rush last season came from Perry and Clay Matthews, who together accounted for 32 percent of the team’s quarterback hits and 39.2 percent of the sacks. After letting Julius Peppers walk in free agency, his veteran replacement Ahmad Brooks had 1.5 sacks and seven QB hits in 12 games.
Fackrell played the third-most snaps among Packers outside linebackers last season behind Perry and Matthews yet rarely factored with three sacks and nine QB hits.
Vince Biegel, a fourth-round pick last year, played just 121 snaps (with no sacks and one QB hit) after he returned from surgery on both feet shortly after the draft.
Perhaps the most promising prospect is Reggie Gilbert, a two-year practice squad member who was promoted to the roster last season in Week 16. He recorded three QB hits in his debut against the Vikings and his first career sack in the season finale against the Lions.
Of course, there are other ways to rush the quarterback, notably from the interior, where the Packers signed free-agent defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson, a former Pettine player with the Jets who has 44.5 career sacks in seven NFL seasons. Along with Kenny Clark, Mike Daniels and Dean Lowry, the Packers’ line could be the strength of the defense.
While the Packers ranked in the middle of the league — tied for 17th — in sacks, that’s only one measure of a pass rush. They ranked 25th in pressure percentage, according to ESPN Stats & Information, in the category defined as the percentage of dropbacks where the opposing quarterback was sacked, hit or under duress.
“I think we have some guys that probably weren’t able to show what they can do last year as much as we would like to,” Gutekunst said on Day 2 of the draft. “Reggie Gilbert had a really good end of the year, and Biegel we’ll look at having a good second-year jump. But I think there will be opportunities [on Day 3 of the draft] or even further down the line for that.”
That’s where Donnerson came in. He’s a freakish athlete whose 40-yard dash time of 4.44 at his pro day would have ranked second among linebackers at the combine (had he been invited) behind only Shaquem Griffen. His 40-inch vertical would have ranked second among linebackers at the combine.
“They see me as a pass-rusher,” Donnerson said. “I don’t know what they’re going to ask me to do, but whatever they ask me to do, I’ll do it. Most likely, I’ll be a pass-rusher for the most part.”