Rookie J’Mon Moore’s best attribute: He ‘grabs grass’ when he runs

Rob Demovsky
ESPN Packers Reporter

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Football coaches tend to speak their own language, inventing words and expressions as they go along. So when Green Bay Packers receivers coach David Raih described rookie J’Mon Moore as someone who “grabs grass,” it was met with some puzzled looks.

Even one of the most accomplished receivers in his group admitted that was a new term to him when he came into the NFL.

“That’s what they say around here,” Davante Adams said. “I had never heard that until I got here, but they use that to describe someone who’s literally moving [so fast] that they’re grabbing the grass quickly.”

It’s one of the reasons Moore has a chance – perhaps the best chance among the young receivers – to make an impact this season. Beyond the fact Moore was the highest draft pick (fourth round, No. 133 overall) among the three receivers that general manager Brian Gutekunst picked in his first draft this year, Moore appears to have acclimated himself the fastest.

Moore made a sideline catch with a high degree of difficulty in this week’s first minicamp practice and has shown the physical attributes that could give him first dibs on some of the snaps now available after the Packers cut Jordy Nelson in the offseason.

But back to that grass grabbing.

Robert Demovsky/ESPN

It’s a noteworthy description given the word on Moore coming out of Missouri was the potential lack of breakout speed. He ran a surprisingly slow 40 at the combine; his 4.6-second time ranked behind all but six of the 37 receivers who ran in Indianapolis. Yes, he ran faster (4.48) at his campus workout, but it was a red flag nonetheless.

The Packers, however, have not had any issue with his speed.

“He’s definitely a guy that grabs grass,” Raih said this week. “He’s got stride length, he’s high cut, and he naturally just covers ground. The main thing is knowing what he’s doing, so he can use those abilities. But yeah, I’m excited about him. I’m excited about everybody in the room.”

Fellow rookie receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling (fifth round) and Equanimeous St. Brown (sixth) have made their share of eye-catching plays, too. St. Brown caught a 22-yard touchdown pass against first-round pick Jaire Alexander during one of the 2-minute drills this week right after Valdes-Scantling caught a short out for a first down to keep that drive alive. And then there’s Michael Clark, the 6-foot-6 former college basketball player who spent most of last season on the practice squad before he got his chance late in the season.

But Moore might be the most complete combination of size, strength and ability. He has wowed the Packers with his strength, conditioning and athleticism.

“Talk about God-given ability,” Adams said. “He has a lot of shiftiness to him. He’s a big dude. He’s like 6-3, big frame plus a lot of speed. As long as he picks everything up, he can do a lot to help us out.”

Of course, none of what Moore has shown this week has come with Aaron Rodgers on the field. Coach Mike McCarthy excused Rodgers and 15 other veterans from the mandatory minicamp because he prefers the final week of the offseason program to be focused on the young players. For Moore – or any receiver – to make his way onto the field come September and beyond, he will have to earn the trust of the quarterback.

Here’s how he plans to do that: “Just me being me,” Moore said. “Going out there, playing fast, being comfortable, knowing my assignment and just going out there not worried about too many things. Just taking it one play at a time, keeping my poise and having fun.”

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix expects to be ‘more free’ in Packers’ new D

By Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Whatever anyone thinks of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s play last season — and there seem to be plenty who took issue with it — the former Pro Bowl safety should be in better position to make a bigger impact this season.

At least that was his feeling after one day of minicamp practice.

Clinton-Dix skipped the voluntary organized team activities and returned to the Green Bay Packers this week for the first time since late May, when he left three weeks into the offseason program. Still, he got enough of a glimpse to feel like his role will be different this season under new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.

Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports

“I’ll definitely be a lot more free in this defense for sure,” Clinton-Dix said. “We’ve got to see what it looks like come game day. We can talk about it now but game day we’ll be talking about some totally different s—. We’ve just got to all wait and see how it plays out. But I’m excited about the new defense, I’m loving it right now. I’m loving it.”

That didn’t seem to be the case last season, when former defensive coordinator Dom Capers used Clinton-Dix as more of a safety valve — keeping him far off the line of scrimmage to guard against big plays as the Packers struggled in that area. In the process, his opportunity to make big plays lessened. After a five-interception, one-forced-fumble season in 2016 led to his first Pro Bowl appearance, he picked off three passes last season but didn’t make the same kind of impact.

He became something of a target for fans, who criticized him on social media and even questioned his effort late last season after the Packers were eliminated from playoff contention.

Months later, he’s still being forced to defend himself. He took to Twitter last weekend with a series of posts.

“I was just tweeting,” Clinton-Dix said when asked what prompted it. “Just can’t say too much [or] what I really want to say, so I’ve got to be careful. Sometimes I have to delete stuff.”

His decision to skip OTAs — even for a reason as valid as the death of his godmother — didn’t help public perception. He also didn’t do much to dispel the idea that he’s unhappy with his contract situation.

It’s a potentially career-changing year for Clinton-Dix. He’s in the final year of his original contract. He’s in the fifth-year option that all first-round picks since 2011 have had. The Packers exercised that option, which will pay him $5.957 million this season. He said he won’t make the mistake of putting too much pressure on himself in a contract year.

“My film is already on tape. I could not play a down and get a new contract and be fine,” Clinton-Dix said. “Stats speak for themselves, everything speaks for themselves. I’ve just got to go out there and continue getting better, continue maximizing my opportunity and winning my one-on-ones.

“I’m going to leave it at that, man. I know my value to this defense, and it’s up to you all to see. I guess we’ll see when we play Chicago and on from there. I’m excited about this opportunity I have in front of me right now going into my fifth year. Like I said, the sky’s the limit for me. Just watch, just watch.”

Tramon Williams provides ‘biggest difference’ for Packers

By Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Tramon Williams isn’t expected to be around this week. As a 12th-year veteran, he’s more than met coach Mike McCarthy’s prerequisite to be excused from the Green Bay Packers’ mandatory minicamp.

And at age 35, Williams won’t be around the NFL forever. But his influence on the Packers’ defense and his seemingly ageless play make it seem like he will.

In his second go-around with the team that gave him his first real chance to play in 2007 as an undrafted cornerback, the measure of Williams’ impact won’t come only in the form of interceptions and pass breakups but also in the influence he’ll have over the Packers’ young cornerbacks — first- and second-round picks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson, respectively, plus second-year pro Kevin King chief among them.

While Williams and other veterans with at least five years of experience are expected to be excused from minicamp as McCarthy has done in the past, the fruits of his impact on the others should be noticeable.

Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire

It was no wonder that none other than Aaron Rodgers turned a question about the Packers’ rookie corners into an answer about old No. 38.

“I said it walking off the field today, the biggest difference on the back end is 38,” Rodgers said last week of Williams. “When he showed back up here, he is as of right now, in my humble opinion, the best on that side of the ball, and you want your best players to be the best guys in the locker room, and there’s nobody better than Tramon.

“It’s great having him back. Those young guys, I would tell them and will tell them here at some point, watch the older guys because there’s a reason that guy’s been around as long as he has — undrafted, practice squad, one of the biggest players in our Super Bowl run and then he’s back here to finish it up. It’s really fun.”

‘Unfinished business’

So many things went wrong in the final minutes of the 2014 NFC Championship Game that it’s easy to forget how it actually ended, and who gave up the final play.

It was Williams, who was in coverage — all by himself because of a blitz call from defensive coordinator Dom Capers — against Seattle’s Jermaine Kearse on the Seahawks’ 35-yard game-winning touchdown in overtime.

It was Williams’ final play as a Packer. The Packers moved on and so did Williams, who signed with the Browns that offseason. He played two years in Cleveland and last season with the Cardinals before he returned to Green Bay this offseason on a two-year, $10 million deal.

“I feel like there’s unfinished business,” Williams said upon his return.

“To walk off the field on my last play as a Packer getting scored on to go to the Super Bowl, it was a tough way to end it. But God puts you in different situations. I ended up leaving and there was a reason why I left — for me to grow. I feel over these last three years, I’ve grown so much more than I would’ve probably ever done while I was here. Now it’s time for me to come back here and get things in order. I’m up for that challenge. I believe that we will be back in the big dance when it’s all said and done. I’m hoping that these guys are here with me, and we’re going to get it done.”

More than a mentor

Williams’ return is more than ceremonial; he wouldn’t be here if general manager Brian Gutekunst thought he was over the hill.

During OTA practices, Williams regularly manned one of the outside positions with the No. 1 defense and is a good bet to be one of the opening-day starters. If King’s recovery from shoulder surgery goes as expected, he could be the other. Alexander could be the leading candidate for the nickel spot and Jackson for the dime position.

But there’s a mentorship aspect in play, too.

Williams played in new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s system in Cleveland, making him and defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson (who played for Pettine with the Jets) expert teachers of the new scheme.

“It’s one thing me saying it, it’s another thing you have a guy in the room with you doing those things, doing the yoga, getting massages, doing the extra stretching, studying film a certain way,” Packers defensive passing-game coordinator Joe Whitt said recently in talking about Williams. “He does everything the proper way, so it’s just been great having him back. And then the three practices he’s gone, he’s been really, really good. He’s still really quick. He’s got his hands on a number of balls. I’ve been really pleased with the way he’s played.”

Williams claims he doesn’t know how much longer he will play, even though he says he gets that question “all the time.” Unlike one of his mentors, Al Harris, who’s now on the Chiefs coaching staff, Williams doesn’t think he’ll coach after his career is over. But he has no problem helping out while he plays.

“One of the things that I’ve told those guys already, when I came in here and I had the opportunity to see great guys play and learn from great guys,” Williams said. “I wasn’t really forced in. My number was called, and I was prepared because I got a chance to watch those guys. I got a chance to watch Charles [Woodson] and Nick [Collins] and those guys and build a relationship with them, even when I wasn’t playing. All of that factors in.

“We try to do a good job of team bonding all the time, whether it be going out to eat at night or whatever it may be. You have to be able to trust the next man on the field with you, and you want that to go further than just the field. That’s one thing that I always preach to the guys. There’s a reason why guys play for a long time. One thing I realize is that smart guys last in this league. Everybody is talented, but the smart guys last in this league. The faster you can get smart, the better you’ll do and the longer you’ll last.”

OTAs show Ty Montgomery remains part of Packers’ plans

By Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Mike McCarthy would love to see what Ty Montgomery can do if he’s healthy.

The Green Bay Packers coach still believes the receiver-turned-running back could be a matchup nightmare for defenses.

That’s why even though Montgomery has yet to prove he can avoid the injury bug, he appears to be set for another significant role in the offense. That much became evident during three weeks of OTA practices, in which Montgomery didn’t appear to lose any ground to emerging running backs Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones.

“We have to take advantage of Ty’s skills, and there’s no question about that,” McCarthy said. “The offense is suited for that.”

Montgomery opened last season as the Packers’ starter but broken ribs and a wrist injury ruined his first season as a full-time running back. The success he had during his midseason position switch in 2016, when he averaged 5.9 yards on 77 carries, never returned. He gave way to Williams and Jones, two of the three running backs the Packers drafted last year.

Williams showed workhorse ability, leading the team in both carries (153) and rushing yards (556). He tied Jones for the team lead in rushing touchdowns (four), although Jones played with more explosiveness and averaged 5.5 yards per rush. Both, however, battled knee injuries as rookies.

Neither has the versatility of Montgomery, whom McCarthy regularly describes as “multi-positional.”

“As far as the running backs, all those guys can play,” McCarthy said. “Ty’s had some incredible periods of play for us and just really what we’ve talked about since the day the season ended: No one has really gone the distance, so that’s why we’re a running back-by-committee approach, and we like all those guys. But yeah, definitely, Ty can play from the backfield and still has the ability to flex him out and get the matchups we’re looking for. We have plenty of that in the offense.”

The running back situation was one of several questions leading into the OTAs. Here are some answers to the others as the final part of the offseason program, this week’s three-day minicamp, approaches:

Kizer vs. Hundley: DeShone Kizer still has a ways to go to challenge Brett Hundley for the backup quarterback job.

However, a couple of things stood out about Kizer: He strikes an imposing figure at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, but it’s also apparent that he’s still working through some of the accuracy issues that hampered him as the Browns’ rookie starter last year.

One sign of progress came last week when he threw a perfectly placed fade to tight end Marcedes Lewis for a touchdown in a red zone period.

“He’s obviously a big body, throws the ball well,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “He’s just trying to get accustomed to our language and some of the fundamentals we teach here, but he’s picking it up great. He’s fun to have in the meetings.”

McCray and a question mark: One-half of the right side of the offensive line issue appears to be answered: Justin McCray is a virtual lock to start at right guard.

The second-year pro played all over the line last year but now has the chance to settle in at one position, and it has been a major benefit.

“The kid just keeps impressing you,” offensive line coach James Campen said. “The guy came back; he’s lived here and changed his diet. He’s been totally engaged with what coach [Mark] Lovat and the strength staff have done in that room. … The things he has done and displayed this offseason speaks volumes to where he wants to go. I think you just saw the tip of what Justin will be. The more reps and the more time he can be devoted to this profession and this just be a one-year cycle of it, I think he’s going to be a much better player.”

Ty Montgomery opened last year as the Packers’ starter but broken ribs and a wrist injury derailed his season. Jim Matthews/USA TODAY NETWORK

Right tackle, however, appears far from settled. At the last open OTA practice, Adam Pankey manned that spot with the first team. Pankey, an undrafted free agent in 2017, did not play a single snap on offense last season as a rookie. Bryan Bulaga won’t be ready for training camp — or possibly the regular season — because of his ACL recovery. Jason Spriggs is still dealing with a knee injury, and Kyle Murphy (foot) hasn’t been fully cleared. That’s why the Packers signed veteran journeyman Byron Bell last month.

Alexander, Jackson shine: The real test will come with the pads on in camp, but the Packers’ top two draft picks already have shown a penchant for finding the football.

Jaire Alexander picked off Rodgers during an open OTA, and Josh Jackson had a big pass breakup during a closed session.

“They’re talking a lot, so I’m going to have to dice them up once we get down to it,” Rodgers joked. “No, I like to see the confidence, I really do. That’s how you want your corners — to play with that swagger, that confidence. [Alexander’s] a little louder than [Jackson] is, but it’s fun to look on the other side of the ball and see those guys making plays. Now, pads are a great equalizer, so you never want to make too big of a judgment.”

Pettine’s D: One thing about new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s practices: they’re not quiet.

Pettine isn’t shy to point out mistakes, but that’s nothing compared to new linebackers coach/run game coordinator Patrick Graham. The former Giants and Patriots assistant can be heard from just about anywhere on the practice field.

“There’s a little bit of yelling at practice,” Rodgers said. The linebacker coach does a lot of yelling, actually. So that’s new, different. It’s energy, you know. It’s yelling energy, but it’s good. Change can be really good for … Anytime you’re in a situation where you’ve had the same type of things going on for a number of years, it’s nice to change it up in some positions.”

It’s all part of Pettine’s plan to hold his players accountable, something that was lacking at times under former defensive coordinator Dom Capers, according to some players.

The ‘real Kevin King’ should finally appear in training camp

Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. — The hooting and hollering from the other end of the locker room was so loud that it interrupted Aaron Rodgers’ session with reporters. Twice, Rodgers paused and looked to his right, where a group of Green Bay Packers defensive backs were whooping it up.

Kevin King was not among them.

King sat quietly at his locker while a group that included the Packers’ top two 2018 draft picks — Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson — went about their locker room fun.

Jim Matthews/Green Bay Press Gazette via USA TODAY Sports

The same can be said for what’s happened on the field this spring, where the addition of Alexander and Jackson to the cornerback position added some much-needed juice. Meanwhile, King, the Packers’ top draft pick in 2017, has been limited only to individual drills to let his surgically repaired left shoulder heal.

More than a year after the Packers picked him at No. 33 overall, they still haven’t seen King at his best. Assistant coach Joe Whitt, who tutored the cornerbacks last season before his promotion to defensive passing game coordinator, said after King’s season ended prematurely because of the injury that “you haven’t really seen the real Kevin King yet.”

That statement holds true — for now — but Whitt believes that will change soon.

“Hopefully in training camp,” Whitt said this offseason. “Hopefully he’ll be full-go in training camp. He’s been really attentive; he’s worked his butt off in the workroom. The guys in the workroom are just raving about the way his work ethic hasn’t necessarily changed, but from Year 1 to 2 you grow up, and he’s matured that way.

“He’s been in [cornerback] Tramon Williams’ back pocket the whole time learning, not just necessarily the defense but how to be a pro and how to be in the league 13 years. So he’s doing everything. He’s been in my back pocket, ‘Hey, Joe, what’s the defense here?’ Because he hasn’t been on the field, but he wants to know what every call is. He wants to communicate with myself and [cornerbacks coach] Jason [Simmons] and make sure that he understands the checks on the side so he can get mental reps each time. But you’ll see the real Kevin King come training camp.”

The 6-foot-3 King gave the Packers something they didn’t have — a lanky, long-armed cornerback suited to cover the NFL’s sky-scraping receivers. Almost immediately, however, a shoulder injury that hampered him in college resurfaced. He didn’t make it through the first week of training camp without issue. He tried to play through it for as long as he could, appearing in nine games while wearing a restrictive harness before the Packers shut him down. Despite the injury, he showed he was a willing tackler, and although he didn’t record an interception, he broke up eight passes before he underwent surgery in December to repair the torn labrum.

“I feel good,” King said. “I went to the best surgeon in the world, Dr. [James] Andrews. He got me right, so I feel good.”

Still, the Packers haven’t let King participate in 11-on-11 periods during OTA practices and probably won’t during next week’s minicamp, either. That leaves new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine still somewhat unsure of what he has in the second-year cornerback.

“It’s hard to tell at this point because I know a lot of the film from last year, that he was playing essentially with one arm,” Pettine said. “Just in talking to Joe and Jason, they think the world of him and think the ceiling is real high there. Just looking at him, it surprised me; I didn’t realize how tall he is until I met him in person. Just with receivers getting bigger and bigger — just look at the guys we’ve got to cover in practice — it will be nice to have a corner with that size and length.”

Given how limited King was last season, it seemed curious that one NFL executive already has written off King in comments to ESPN’s Mike Sando for an Insider story evaluating each team’s offseason moves. Said the personnel evaluator: “Green Bay has to take corners because they missed on [Damarious] Randall, they missed on [Quinten] Rollins, they probably missed on the Washington kid last year [Kevin King].”

The Packers brought back Davon House, who started 12 games last season, and re-signed Williams after three years away from Green Bay. Even with the addition of Alexander and Jackson, there’s a good chance King will be one of the two starters on the outside when the season opens. So far, Alexander has looked like a capable No. 3 corner in the slot.

“I think it’s going to be a big jump for him,” House said of King. “I’m excited to see what he looks like healthy because last year he was banged up the whole year, and I thought last year he wasn’t bad at all for a rookie. So I’m excited to see what he brings this year.”

Where’s Ha Ha? Clinton-Dix’s OTA absence raises questions

Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. — When Ha Ha Clinton-Dix showed up for the start of the offseason program on April 17, there was no indication that his attendance — voluntary as it is — would be incomplete.

The former Pro Bowl safety, who like most players on the Green Bay Packers’ defense was coming off a disappointing season, sounded all-in with new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.

As such, it came as something of a surprise when the offseason program turned to Phase 3 and Clinton-Dix was nowhere to be found. The first day of public and media access last month brought no questions about it. In the two days of open practices that followed in the ensuing weeks, more questions — but few answers — have emerged.

David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire

Finally on Monday, the start of the final week of OTAs, Packers coach Mike McCarthy offered this when asked about Clinton-Dix’s absence:

“There’s really no need to get into attendance,” McCarthy said. “We’re having a really good offseason. Ha Ha, just like a number of veterans, when we start the offseason program, we go through everybody’s individual schedule. Things do come up, so he’s had a personal situation that he’s attended to, so I have no concerns.”

Text messages to Clinton-Dix and messages left for his agent, Pat Dye Jr., have not been returned.

Next week could be telling as it relates to Clinton-Dix’s attendance. That’s when the Packers hold their only mandatory event of the offseason: the three-day minicamp that runs June 12-14. Even if McCarthy excuses some veterans, as he has in recent years, Clinton-Dix almost certainly won’t meet the requirements. In the past, McCarthy has let players with five years of NFL experience skip the camp. Clinton-Dix has four.

The former first-round pick is signed through the end of this season and would play this year under the fifth-year option on his rookie deal, at a salary of $5.957 million.

Still, Clinton-Dix’s absence could be, at least in part, contract-driven. He switched agents, moving to Dye, within the past year, presumably to help with a new deal once his rookie contract runs out. He no doubt would like a contract extension commensurate with those of the top safeties in the league. The sum of his rookie contract, including the option year, puts him 32nd among safeties in average salary per year, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Eric Berry of the Chiefs is the NFL’s highest-paid safety, at $13 million per season. Clinton-Dix is not among the players who have workout bonuses in their contracts, so he isn’t losing any money.

“I’m excited about the scheme and things that are going on inside of that [play]book,” Clinton-Dix said in April “It’s all smiles from me. I’m excited about it. I’m excited to work. I’m excited to be here.”

Clinton-Dix could be one of the most important players in Pettine’s plans, especially considering that the Packers let veteran safety Morgan Burnett leave in free agency to sign with the Steelers.

Clinton-Dix’s 2017 performance did not come close to the production he had in 2016, when he made his first Pro Bowl. But there were so many issues across the defense — all of which led to Dom Capers’ firing after nine seasons — that Clinton-Dix said he spent more time trying to prevent big plays than he did trying to make them.

“Last year, we had to do what was best for the team,” Clinton-Dix said in April. “I wasn’t involved in a lot, but like I said, last year was last year. I didn’t meet the standards I set for myself personally. If you ask a guy from a different team, three picks and 80 tackles with not being involved in the scheme, I think they would think they had a great year. But with a guy like me with the high expectations I set for myself, I expect more, and I expect more from myself this year. I have to work on a lot of things to get better at, and I’m excited about it.”

One current Packers player who has been in contact with Clinton-Dix expressed no concerns about his teammate’s absence. The teammate told ESPN that Clinton-Dix has been working on football and has been in regular contact with the team even though he hasn’t been at OTAs.

When asked if he is concerned about Clinton-Dix’s absence, defensive passing-game coordinator Joe Whitt said: “Not at all. It’s voluntary. So the guys that are here are the guys that we’re worried about.”

Mike McCarthy OK with softball game despite Clay Matthews’ injury

By Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Mike McCarthy isn’t going to put the kibosh on the annual Green Bay Packers charity softball game, but he might like Clay Matthews to put in some extra skill work if he’s going to pitch again.

Matthews took a line drive off his face during Saturday’s game and suffered a broken nose that will require surgery.

“I think he needs to work on his off-hand, mitt side, on the release of the ball,” McCarthy joked on Monday. “So that’s what the tape showed me. It’s a charity [game], but most importantly, we don’t have any long-term concerns. We’re talking about scheduling surgery probably midweek. So it’s unfortunate but it’s for a great cause, I’m just glad he’s OK.”


McCarthy said he has no issues with his players continuing the long-standing charity event that has been held for more than two decades at the home of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, a minor league affiliate of the Brewers near Appleton.

“I am [OK with the game],” McCarthy said. “I think it’s great on a number of fronts. Anytime your players give back, charity involved in the community, that’s a great day for the fans, I mean they sell it out every year. … Yeah, I’m not going to overreact to this.”

Matthews and receiver Davante Adams were the co-hosts of the game this year. In the past, it has been hosted by Brett Favre, Donald Driver and Jordy Nelson.

Adams pitched behind a protective screen following the injury to Matthews, who did not use the device when he pitched to start the game.

Matthews has been held out of OTAs because he underwent offseason knee surgery, so he would not have been on the field Monday, when the Packers held their final open OTA practice. They have their mandatory minicamp next week, but McCarthy has excused veterans with at least five years of service from that camp in recent years.

Mike Pettine’s first impression on Packers could be long-lasting

By Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. — All that matters is what the Green Bay Packers’ defense looks like on Sept. 9, when the regular season opens against the Chicago Bears, and every Sunday (or the occasional Monday, Thursday and Saturday depending on the schedule) after that.

But if things are indeed different this year — and the defense isn’t the liability it has been in so many years since the last Super Bowl season — then April 17 might be viewed as the turning point. That’s when Mike Pettine addressed his players for the first time as Packers defensive coordinator and made the kind of first impression that lingers.

Here they are, almost seven weeks later and nearly five months after Pettine was hired, and the Packers are still talking about that team meeting that started the offseason workouts.

“I really like Mike’s first meeting,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said last week. “Like anything in this business, you have one opportunity to make a first impression.”

It was in that meeting, a session Pettine said lasted “a long time,” where the 51-year-old coach introduced his KILL philosophy — the “keep it likable and learnable” approach he developed with Rex Ryan with the Ravens and then the Jets. It may be a catchy acronym, but it sounds like just what the Packers needed after all the confusion that ruined their defense toward the end of Dom Capers’ tenure as coordinator.

AP Photo/Mike Roemer

While much of the base philosophies remain intact from Capers to Pettine — reinforced by the fact that five of Pettine’s current defensive assistants were on the staff last season — this defense could be a streamlined approach to the same principles, especially in the oft-troubled area of communication.

New Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine made a memorable first impression during his initial meeting with players in April. AP Photo/Mike Roemer
“That’s the first thing we talk about during every film session is communication,” veteran cornerback Davon House said after Thursday’s open OTA practice.

“I love him,” House added. “Love the energy he brings. You can feel the juice in the meetings room and on the field. Guys flying around. But it’s just the beginning. We’re still learning the defense, the ins and outs of it. But so far it’s great. Not good, but great as you saw today out there on the practice field.”

What House was referring to were the pair of interceptions — one by first-round pick Jaire Alexander and another by practice-squad linebacker Ahmad Thomas — of Aaron Rodgers. Both were met with exuberance from the defensive sideline that stood out even during a meaningless late-May practice.

“I think just a different personality now,” said cornerback Tramon Williams, who played for Pettine during one of his two seasons as the Browns’ head coach. “Obviously you get a good defense and a good system that comes with it, but Mike has a great personality to the point where he’s going to let you be a player, but he’s going to speak up at the same time when players are not doing what they’re supposed to do. So you have that balance between what he brings, and guys love it.

“You’ve got a guy like, say, [defensive tackle] Mike Daniels and you’ve got a coach comes in and tells him he’s going to let you do what you do, and that’s what players love to hear. He’s a combination of a guy who understands that players play the game but at the same time, he’s going keep a leash on you.”

It was Williams who suggested during a recent appearance on ESPN Milwaukee radio that the NFL had caught up to Capers’ system. Williams was among those who flourished under Capers and played a key role in the run to Super Bowl XLV, but he also was around long enough to see part of the decline. Williams’ last season in Green Bay was 2014; his last play was the touchdown he allowed against the Seahawks in overtime of the NFC title game that season.

Williams re-signed this offseason after three years away in part because of the need for another veteran cornerback and because he has experience in Pettine’s system.

“The first couple of years under Dom, we were ahead of the game with it, especially with the players that we had in here,” Williams said. “Obviously when you win the Super Bowl, the first thing teams do is turn on the tape to see why these guys are so good. And they start breaking down that film and people start catching up with it, and you have to make adjustments.

“It’s funny because Pettine’s system is not that far off from Dom’s. The system that I was in Arizona [last season] wasn’t that far off from Dom, but they had a lot more adjustments to it because you couldn’t read what we were doing all the time. From my experience over the last couple of years away, there’s adjustments to this defense and guys are making that.”

This is Pettine’s first job in the NFL since he was fired as the Browns’ coach following the 2015 season. He spent his two seasons away immersed in a deep study of the NFL in order to refine and redefine his system. Part of that included a reduction of volume. Where he might have taken 50 different playcalls into a game before, he thinks the number will be closer to 25 now — another point that was stressed in that first team meeting.

“The biggest thing I wanted them to understand was that it’s really important for us to know that it’s mindset over scheme,” Pettine said. “I know I talked about it then, too, that the playbook, we want to make sure we have a cutting-edge playbook and we do some things that we gear toward the opponent and you have some graduate-level stuff but, at the same time, it shouldn’t matter. It’s more important how we play and not what we play.

“I told them we can line up in one defense but as long as we play with great passion, great technique that we should be able to stop people if the call sheet’s very limited. I think that we’ve got the buy-in from that. That comes with energy, with focus. The passion piece is big for us as well. It’s a kids’ game. Sometimes you lose sight of that and guys take it a little bit too seriously and get caught up in some things. ‘This is a game, man. Let’s go out and have fun.'”