Packers load up on defense with first six picks
GREEN BAY, Wis.—After giving up way too many big plays last year, the Green Bay Packers wanted their defense to get deeper, faster and better at tackling.
General manager Ted Thompson kept busy Saturday, taking Iowa defensive lineman Mike Daniels and Maine safety Jerron McMillian with a pair of compensatory picks at the end of the fourth round, then traded up to take North Carolina State linebacker Terrell Manning in the fifth round.
With those moves, the Packers went defense with each of their first six picks. Last year, the Packers took offensive players with five of their first six selections.
Thompson said neither pattern happened on purpose, joking that some of his coaches were giving him funny looks this year.
"I got that last year from the defensive guys," Thompson said. "Last year, there was no intent to do it that way, this year there was no intent. We try to stick with our ratings and look at value."
Even if it wasn't the plan, it certainly couldn't hurt that the Packers walked away from the draft with so much defensive help.
Coach Mike McCarthy said the Packers' ability to score quickly and often on offense last season might have put an unexpected amount of strain on the defense, creating a need for more depth.
"The fact that we did score so many points quite often put stresses on our defense that we had not had before," McCarthy said. "So that's something that we spent a lot of time looking as a coaching staff and feeling we could do a better job of being more creative."
Coaches acknowledge the need for improvement. Asked about McMillian's tackling ability, Packers safeties coach Darren Perry made a larger point about the defense.
"He's an excellent tackler, and you guys know what our tackling looked like last year," Perry said. "So that's going to be a point of emphasis."
When asked about Daniels, defensive coordinator Dom Capers talked about the Packers trying to get faster.
"I think both of the defensive linemen we added have excellent in-line quickness, which I think that you have to have in this day and age in order to beat a one-on-one block," Capers said.
And to get pressure on the quarterback, something first-round pick Nick Perry -- who runs a 40-yard dash in the 4.5 range at 271 pounds -- will be counted on to do from the outside linebacker spot.
"We hope we helped all aspects of defense," Thompson said. "Certainly pass rush is a very vital thing in the National Football League because of the proliferation of the passing game. And we'll see. We hope so."
Well aware of his conservative reputation, Thompson joked about making three trades up in the draft.
"It's horrible," Thompson said. "I told them I was ashamed. I'm not my father's son anymore because my father's very frugal. It's pathetic. But in this case, I felt like it was appropriate. I feel like we have a good, solid team, and I felt like where we knew we felt like we were getting quality, we should try to do it."
The Packers came into this year's draft with 12 picks but ended up with eight, apparently emphasizing quality over quantity.
The 6-foot, 291-pound Daniels had 15.5 sacks and 27 tackles for losses in four seasons with the Hawkeyes.
Daniels is coming off shoulder surgery after an injury before the Hawkeyes' bowl game. He said he received medical clearance two weeks ago.
"I injured my shoulder about two weeks prior to the bowl game," Daniels said. "And, no, (it didn't) affect me too much because I played very well that bowl game."
Thompson said the Packers were comfortable with their analysis of the injury.
The Packers struggled last season to make up for the loss of defensive end Cullen Jenkins in free agency, but now have several options with Worthy, Daniels and free-agent addition Anthony Hargrove. It also could put pressure on the oft-injured Mike Neal, who will miss the first four games of the season for a violation of the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances.
Green Bay also needed help at safety after releasing veteran safety Nick Collins amid uncertainty about his ability to return from a significant neck injury. That leaves the Packers looking at options at the position, although Charlie Peprah is the presumptive starter.
The 5-11, 215-pound McMillian had five pass breakups and an interception last season. He had 88 tackles and 10.5 tackles for losses.
Could McMillian -- who said he admired the way Collins played safety -- challenge for the job?
"I don't want to say I can, I don't want to say I can't," McMillian said. "But I'll work as hard as I can to get that opportunity."
Perry praised McMillian's intelligence and versatility, but said any talk about him challenging for a starting spot is premature.
"We have some young guys on our roster that are looking forward to make their own mark," Perry said. "It certainly won't be handed to him, but he'll have every opportunity to come in and compete, and we'll see where things fall."
The 6-2, 237-pound Manning had 10 sacks and 27.5 tackles for losses in three seasons with the Wolfpack. He'll likely be an inside linebacker in the Packers' 3-4 scheme.
Despite going in the fifth round -- he was hoping to get picked Friday -- Manning said he didn't regret leaving school a year early.
"I felt like I was ready," Manning said. "I watched a lot of other linebackers and I don't feel like any linebacker in the country was as productive as me. I feel like I was as skilled as any linebacker in this draft and I'm looking to prove that."
The Packers finally paid some attention to the offense with their two seventh-round compensatory selections, taking Florida State left tackle Andrew Datko and Tennessee-Chattanooga quarterback B.J. Coleman. Datko is coming off a shoulder injury that cost him most of last season.
Coleman, a transfer from Tennessee, will get a shot at the No. 3 quarterback as Graham Harrell presumably becomes the primary backup to Aaron Rodgers.
In all, McCarthy said the level of competition has gone up in Green Bay.
"I'll say this, two weeks ago we had a team meeting and standing in front of our team, that's as good of a group as I've stood in front of in April," McCarthy said. "And now to add the competition we've added to our players, we're just heightening the competition."