Packers: 3 biggest questions on defense heading into 2018 season

GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 23: Kenny Clark #97 and Reggie Gilbert #93 of the Green Bay Packers combine for a sack against Case Keenum #7 of the Minnesota Vikings in the first quarter at Lambeau Field on December 23, 2017 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 23: Kenny Clark #97 and Reggie Gilbert #93 of the Green Bay Packers combine for a sack against Case Keenum #7 of the Minnesota Vikings in the first quarter at Lambeau Field on December 23, 2017 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

Three questions facing the Green Bay Packers’ defense ahead of OTAs.

The 2018 draft was heavy on the defensive side for the Green Bay Packers.

The first three picks were taken with fixing a leaky pass defense in mind. GM Brian Gutekunst also added through free agency with Muhammad Wilkerson and Tramon Williams. Did the Packers do enough heading into the 2018 season?

Gone is Dom Capers, in is Mike Pettine as the team’s defensive coordiantor. Two new corners were added via the draft, yet the pass rush was ignored. Has enough been done to turn things around?

We all know Pettine’s track record. He has top defenses when he is the coordinator. But I don’t feel the Packers need to finish in the top 5-10 to have a championship defense. With Rodgers at the helm the offense will put up points. But can the defense prevent the other team from scoring into the 20s consistently?

The NFC is filled with high caliber teams. The Packers will have to slow the Rams, Lions (twice), Vikings (twice) and Falcons, with the always-dangerous Patriots on the AFC side of the schedule. The Packers will also deal with the up-and-coming 49ers. It could be tough sledding for Pettine and his crew.

Here are three questions ahead of organized team activities (OTAs), which begin later this month.

Top 12 defense?

I feel the Packers don’t need a top-10 defense to have a championship caliber team. One look at the schedule and it’s easy to see that some of these teams are just going to put up yards and points. But if Pettine can get this defense into the top 12-15, I think the Packers will be in good shape.

The Packers have managed winning records and deep playoff runs with less of a defense. If this team can suddenly make stops on third down and get the ball back in Rodgers’ hands more frequently, it should be enough.

If the Packers can fill in the gaping hole in the middle of their defense, this team should have much easier third-down distances. The defense could also find themselves with more three-and-outs instead of scoring drives.

Where will the pass rush come from?

The only addition at outside linebacker was seventh-round draft pick Kendall Donnerson. Coming out of Southeast Missouri, Donnerson faces a steep learning curve and I don’t think much can be expected of him this season.

The only other addition to the front seven is Muhammad Wilkerson.

A return to health and full 16-game schedule from Clay Matthews and Nick Perry could go a long way. The Packers have never had both together for all 16 games.

Also, there is a need for depth. Kyler Fackrell, Vince Biegel and Reggie Gilbert will all have to step up this season. Even if Matthews and Perry stay healthy, they are going to need help. If this trio can provide 8-10 sacks between them, it will boost the outside rush.

The Packers’ inside rush will also be a huge key to getting after the QB. A rotation of Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark, Wilkerson and Dean Lowry should provide a headache for opposing lines. If Montravius Adams can take the next step like Lowry and Clark, Pettine will have as feared an inside rush as there is in the NFL.

What will the three rookies bring to the Pass D?

Most of the attention will go to the first two draft picks: Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson. Unlike previous years, the GM has set up the defense to not have to rely on major contributions from rookies.

The signing of Tramon Williams and re-signing of Davon House gives the Packers options other than forcing Alexander and Jackson into the fire. 

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Previous seasons saw Dom Capers go in with talent at starting corner without much depth behind them. If you look at the 2014 season, you can see what having actual depth can do for a team.

Williams and Sam Shields started, and they were backed up by House and Casey Hayward. Also Micah Hyde played a key role. That season saw the Packers fall one meltdown away from the Super Bowl. It was probably their best defense since 2010.

Since then they have been left with former basketball players with little experience, a player playing out of position and a number of undrafted free agents. That’s not a recipe for success in today’s pass-happy NFL.

Having Williams and House, with Kevin King already on the roster, gives the Packers better options. Alexander or Jackson could find their way into the starting lineup early. There’s too much talent between the two to not get them on the field. But unlike in previous years, there is veteran depth behind and in front of them.

If Lenzy Pipkins or Josh Hawkins becomes the next Sam Shields, even better.

Not to be forgotten is Quinten Rollins. Rollins actually started last season ahead of Damarious Randall on the depth chart before injuries took their toll. His skill set matches up well with the slot position. He’s quicker than fast and has shown to be a willing tackler.

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Of the three top picks of the draft, Oren Burks has a chance to make a quicker impact. Burks is smart and athletic. If he can be the coverage linebacker the Packers have been missing, he could fill a major void. The middle of the defense would no longer be an open area for receivers and tight ends to find. Screen passes would no longer guarantee big yardage.