Green Bay Packers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers share a conversation during a team offseason workout session.

Green Bay Packers: Improving the defense

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Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy drew some criticism several months ago, just after the playoffs began. He was quoted as saying this year the defense is going to have some changes, due to the unacceptable play over the last few years, particularly this last season, when Green Bay led the league in sacks for much of the year.

This was the day McCarthy spoke about a little known linebacker, former DE Mike Neal, who was thought of by coach McCarthy as a “on the rise star,” as in “on the up and up” and away it goes.

It seems Neal has attention on that line from more than one coach on the team. Columnist Mike Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press Gazette reports that Neal has been very impressive in his transition from defensive end to the linebacker corps. He’s adjusting well, making the change from a one and three technique on the line of scrimmage to a standing outside linebacker. Mr. Neal is doing a really remarkable job at seeing the entire field of play in the big picture, or grand-scheme of things creating coverages, with all the checks and adjustments the linebackers need.

This report on the heels of Mike McCarthy is enough to make a believer of us all, only remembering the name a few times during the end of last season.

Defensive End (DE) and Outside Linebacker (O-LB) Mike Neal was in place as the Green Bay Packers’ prospective “secret weapon.” A recent Bleacher report article, “Every NFL Teams Potential Secret Weapon for the Season,” written by the elite featured columnist, Nick Kostos, is a must-read for every NFL fan.

It’s a ditto article on what to expect. Learning when the head coach in Green Bay goes on record saying his player is looking very promising, you know that player is going to take off with things soon. Too bad we must wait 70-some days of grueling agony before kicking off the 2014 season.

Welcome to Wisconsin. Land of Cheese, Corn, Cows and Clay Mathews’ football team. Mathews has been somewhat over-challenged, and I mean that in a good way for his potential and efforts up until now. It seems Ted Thompson’s style of drafting and free agent hunting has one downside. When something is broken, Ted goes after all he can get in that area. The need for offensive personnel has been filled as of now, but new drafts had been used mostly for offensive help over the past few years. This made Mathews over-challenged in acting for players who were not holding up their end of the defense, giving Matthews more than a little extra field to cover.

Green Bay Packers defensive end Mike Neal (96). Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Green Bay Packers defensive end Mike Neal (96). Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

THE HERO ARRIVES!

You can bet Mathews will get time for an occasional deep breath now that Julius Peppers will be taking up the slack on the D-line.

The youth factor raises another year of experience.

Mathews and Co. have a burden lifted, allowing Clay to run wild over opponents. Clay is Clay and will once again prove to be a weapon – a superhero with special powers. The serious thing on Matthews’ side is that he is for real, and with an up-and-coming Mike Neal next to him, an already made Julius Peppers in front of him, and a re-designed cushion behind him in the defensive backfield, Matthews will be able to raise “the Dickens” as grandmother used to say (on Ray Nitschke, of course), with all due respect.

With MM’s dilemma in keeping his promise, it appears as if TT put in a good few weeks of work in helping McCarthy make sure he backed up his words. That defense will be getting better, so much better, it’s back to being one of the best Packers teams ever – on paper at least.

We shall see how it all ranks when the gun sounds after game 16 next winter, and the playoffs begin. Should the Packers have a bye for game one?

Let’s not jump the gun.

It depends …

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