A closer look at names the Green Bay Packers could consider at defensive coordinator.
The sun is slowly peeking its way through the clouds for Packers’ fans with the recent announcements of Brian Gutekunst being hired as the team’s new general manager along with the return of Joe Phibin to the coaching staff in his familiar role of offensive coordinator.
And while those signings have certainly added a greater sense of stability and relief to those who live and breathe Packers football year-round, the defensive coordinator conundrum remains unsolved and stands as arguably the most critical offseason change given the sorry state of the defensive unit.
Though members of the media and general fan base alike can’t pretend to possess the inside knowledge to recognize the specific criteria each candidate will be evaluated on throughout the interview process, we can certainly dissect and analyze the hopefuls individually.
Schemes, track record, personality and familiarity with members of the current staff are just some of the aspects that can be used to determine the overall viability of some of the (supposed) defensive masterminds who are currently looking for new employment.
A fact that anyone would be hard pressed to dispute is that there is a wealth of talent out there that can help a number of franchises in need of guidance. It is now up to Mike McCarthy to identify the one coach who is the best fit for a proud organization that won’t settle for anything less than a quick turnaround from an uncharacteristic 7-9 season.
The new man with a plan will be saddled with the task of coaxing across-the-board improvements out of his players in the areas of third-down completions, third-down conversions, scoring efficiency, red-zone efficiency and five-minute drives among others considering that the Packers ranked anywhere from 30th to 32nd in each of those categories.
Here are a few intriguing names that could provide what was sorely lacking under former defensive coordinator Dom Capers.
The NFL Hall-of-Famer boasts a wealth of experience as an outside linebacker coach with both the Packers and the Jets. He, in fact, was instrumental in helping Green Bay transition from a base 4-3 defense to a hybrid 3-4 alignment under Capers from 2009 to 2013.
Greene was especially impactful in the development of a young Clay Matthews and has the type of fiery personality that has earned him the reputation of being the Hulk Hogan of assistant coaches.
Unlike Capers, the NFL’s third all-time leader in sacks is more of a hands-on leader that prefers standing on the sideline and interacting with athletes rather than sitting in his far-off ivory tower.
But while the former passing rushing legend can certainly mentor linebackers as well as linemen in the front seven, not enough is known about his ability to direct other components of a defense, namely the secondary.
The 52-year-old Miami native has parlayed 11 years as an NFL linebacker into an extensive and successful run as a defensive assistant as he’s served as both an assistant head coach and linebacker coach for the Packers since 2006.
Moss has a true knack for getting the most out of his players by recognizing their unique skills. Julius Peppers stands out as a shining example of a defender that the highly-regarded coach was able to utilize in the dual role of edge rusher and interior lineman on passing downs.
One word that is often associated with Moss is “demanding” insofar as knowing what he wants out of every player. He is also quite analytical and well-spoken in his dealings with the media which will help him in not only earning a defensive coordinator’s gig, but possibly becoming a head coach.
Not many can compare themselves to Nolan when it comes to experience. This football lifer has been coaching at either the collegiate or NFL levels since 1981, including seven different stops as a defensive coordinator in the pros.
Schematically, the 58-year-old runs a flexible 3-4 that doesn’t emphasize blitzing all that much, but Nolan has been known to send his safeties after the quarterback from time to time. In addition, the Baltimore native places a premium on stopping the run, an area where the Packers showed marked regression in 2017.
Nolan is first and foremost a teacher who has mastered the art of simplifying concepts for each of his players by using a few meaningful cues instead of being overly verbose.
Also working in his favor is the fact that he worked together with Mike McCarthy during their days with the 49ers during Nolan’s far-from-memorable tenure as head coach.
The last time we saw the one-time NFL safety on the sidelines was in his final tour as head coach of a Rams’ roster that struggled mightily from an offensive standpoint, forcing team owner Stan Kroenke to fire Fisher 13 games into the 2016 season.
So, while Fisher may be just as qualified as most fans to direct an offense, his defensive acumen is second-to-none.
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Throughout his travels in the pros, the California-born coaching veteran has engineered units that specialize in disguising their coverages while asking defensive backs to play a physical (or dirty according to some) brand of football.
His 4-3 style requires the middle linebacker to be a heady, play-making force (hello, Blake Martinez) along with fierce pass rushers coming off the edge.
It’s been a long time since Fisher has worked solely as a defensive assistant, but a year off may have done him some good by allowing him to refocus his energies on what he does best.
Once upon a time, Del Rio was an intimidating inside linebacker whose hard work and instincts turned him into a certified playmaker during his years with the Minnesota Vikings.
The former USC Trojan’s love of the game fueled him to pursue a coaching career, where he initially flourished as a linebacker coach with the Ray Lewis-led Ravens during their 2000 Super Bowl season. He later went onto lead the Panthers to becoming the NFL’s second-best defense in 2002 as their defensive coordinator.
In time, Del Rio developed a no-nonsense, tough-guy persona as head coach of the Jaguars from 2003 to 2011. His teams had a lot of size up front while employing a 4-3 scheme.
Lately, however, the results just haven’t been there during his two years as head coach of the Raiders. Not only did he fail to elevate his defense into an emerging top-15 unit, but the play of his linebackers was among the worst in the league.
As it turns out, Del Rio wasn’t quite the same disciplinarian in Oakland as he was in the past and this may be due to the fact that 54-year-old is no longer equipped to oversee an entire team and delegate responsibility.
A return to his roots as a defensive coordinator may be the best way for him to relaunch his coaching career following a 6-10 record that led to his recent ouster.
The 33-year coach made his bones as an NFL secondary coach with the Cleveland Browns that featured a defensive backfield that accounted for 28 of the team’s NFL-best 33 interceptions in 2000.
In his only year as the defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens, Pagano’s defense ranked third in points allowed and yards against while finishing second versus the run.
Those who have played under him deem Pagano as an inspirational figure, as evidenced by how both his offensive and defensive players shaved their heads to supported him during his cancer ordeal as Colts’ head coach in 2012. Their loyalty and support became part of the #CHUCKSTRONG movement.
Pagano is a proponent of the 3-4 scheme, but couldn’t employ it when he was first hired in Indy due to his undersized personnel. In fact, the disconnect between the long-time coach and his then general manager, Ryan Grigson, was viewed by many as the primary reason why the Colts’ defense never became a feared unit.
Fangio is by far the people’s choice among the Packer faithful and deservedly so. Though the 59-year-old coach served twice under Capers as his defensive coordinator with the Panthers and Texans, the student has thoroughly outperformed his master in recent years.
Where Capers has been unable to field a single top-10 defense in his last seven seasons, five of Fangio’s last seven units have achieved that distinction. What’s more, the one-time USFL assistant oversaw four 49ers’ defensive units that ranked in the top five in points allowed in four consecutive seasons.
The pride of Dunsmore, PA will undoubtedly be in high demand once he’s free to meet with other teams starting tomorrow as he’ll look to bring his 30-front concepts with him to his new destination.
Fangio’s defenses are built around a strong three-man line that occupies blockers to free up both the inside and outside linebackers to swoop in and make plays.
He also believes in throwing lots of pre-snap motion at his opponent backed by a combination of man and zone coverages.
During his tenure in Chicago, Fangio accumulated multiple pass-rush specialists that he would rotate through in games. Look for him to prioritize adding new edge defenders to the mix behind veterans Nick Perry, Clay Matthews and former 49er Ahmad Brooks and possibly cut ties with the likes of Kyler Fackrell and Chris Odom.