Packers’ assistant coaches are in the know : Packers Insider

Packers’ assistant coaches are in the know

February 5, 2011 by  
Filed under News

By Tom Silverstein, Journal-Sentinel

Running backs coach Edgar Bennett, left, never has a problem getting the attention of his troops. All he has to do is show them the Super Bowl ring from his playing days with the Packers.

~Dallas — Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy never played a down of professional football.

The same is true of defensive coordinator Dom Capers.

But scroll down the list of names on the Packers’ offensive and defensive staffs and they’re filled with former NFL and CFL players.

There are nine total former pros, five on offense, three on defense and one on special teams. The only other team who competed during the 2010 season with as many ex-pros on the coaching staff was the San Francisco 49ers, who have since dismissed their staff.

On offense, the Packers have running backs coach Edgar Bennett, offensive line coaches James Campen and Jerry Fontenot, quarterbacks coach Tom Clements and receivers coach Jimmy Robinson.

On defense, it’s linebacker coaches Winston Moss and Kevin Greene and safeties coach Darren Perry.

On special teams, it’s assistant Chad Morton.

There is no rule that says the best coaches are former NFL players. If there were, McCarthy and Capers – and Bill Belichick, for that matter – wouldn’t be where they are.

But McCarthy has tapped the pro ranks for vital position coaching jobs and it has produced results. It could be a reason why the Packers have been so good at incorporating young players into their regular rotation on the way to Super Bowl XLV.

“If you’re coaching the position you played, you know what it’s like, you knew what you had to do to be successful,” said Clements, who is in the CFL Hall of Fame. “You know tricks of the trade, you know what they’re going through, all those things factor in. I think it’s helpful. It’s not mandatory but it’s helpful.”

Most of the coaches think the No. 1 advantage of being a pro is the credibility factor. Often times, young players come in with their own ideas of how to do things and if the guy trying to get them to do it his way doesn’t have the respect, it can be an uphill battle.

Take Robinson, for instance.

If you looked at him, you would bet that he was a chemistry professor, not a former New York Giants wide receiver. He stands just 5-foot-9 and was listed at 170 pounds during his career, but he played five seasons, caught 85 passes and averaged 16.9 yards per reception.

His claim to fame is being the first player to catch a touchdown in old Giants Stadium.

When he stands among the likes of Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones and Jordy Nelson, he has to have their respect. Most of them didn’t know much about his past until they saw the pictures of him in a Giants uniform in his basement.

“I think it helps; from the outset it helps credibility-wise, you were good enough to have played on this level, so you kind of know what they’re going through a little bit,” Robinson said. “I think it helps.”

In the case of Bennett, the players can’t help but know he played the game because he did it with the Packers from 1992-’96 and has a Super Bowl ring that he flashes quite often. There’s a little bit of psychology involved in that; when Bennett tells his players they’ve got to work a little harder, they know it’s coming from a guy who did his entire career.

“He has a lot of knowledge of the game, he’s been in two Super Bowls and he’ll let you know that,” running back Brandon Jackson said. “It’s also hard when you’re out there on the field and do something wrong. He’s on you hard, but it’s for the good.

“He’s been there before. He’s always going to let you know that he’s been there before, that if you just take coaching everything will work out.”

In the case of Greene and Moss, there’s no mistaking the fact they played professional football. Greene ranks third all-time in sacks and is a regular on classic highlight tapes because of his flamboyant style.

Moss still looks like he could play linebacker for the Oakland Raiders or Seattle Seahawks or Tampa Bay Buccaneers and when a recent “30-for-30” segment on ESPN highlighted the flamboyant 1980s Miami Hurricanes, for whom he played, his credibility rose another level.

“Doing this for 23 years, there’s a lot of things I can relate to from being a player,” Moss said. “It’s benefited me from a player’s standpoint where it’s, ‘Hey, this is how it’s going to happen.’ It’s not about that great player saying, ‘Hey listen, I did it this way and you need to do it this way because I did it that way.

“Usually when you try to beat down that message, sometimes it doesn’t connect. Sometimes it does.”

If there is an instance where telling a player how you did it can be beneficial, it’s probably Greene. Many 3-4 outside linebackers are similarly built and have one main goal in their career: sack the quarterback.

Greene became a coach because the passion of the game hadn’t left his system completely and he needed to fulfill that void. After a break from playing the game, he served several internships and then decided to jump in feet first with the Packers.

“You’re coaching your kids with the fundamentals and techniques that you played and were successful with for years,” Greene said. “That’s why I’m teaching my kids what I used to make me the player I was.

“When they learn it and implement it and they’re successful at it, they like it, because being successful is addictive, you want to do it more and more. And I think that’s the reward as coaches.”

On occasion, the coaches pull out a tape or two to show their players how they played the game, but most say it’s done for fun. Sometimes the players figure their coach played in the days of leather helmets.

“You get to the clips and the old Houston Astrodome is up there and they see the old Astroturf and they’re like, ‘Where are you guys playing that game,'” Perry said. “What are you guys playing on? That’s probably the most amusing thing about the whole deal.”


Professional grade

There are more than a few players who have benefited from the guidance of a former-NFL-player-turned-assistant-coach. Here are three examples that have yielded great results for the Green Bay Packers.

RBs coach Edgar Bennett and RB Brandon Jackson

The former Packers running back began working on Jackson the minute he arrived in town four years ago and turned a guy who was embarrassed during a training camp pass-rushing drill into the best blocking halfback on the team. Jackson stands only 5-10 and 216 pounds, but through the use of proper technique and intense classroom work, he’s quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ personal protector on third downs.

Jackson: “Oh, man, there was a lot of hard times, especially as a rookie. He used to tell me, ‘Whenever you’re ready to give up just say, ‘No mas.’ I always had it in the back of my head, and I’m just like, ‘No, I can’t say that, I can’t say that. I won’t quit, I won’t give up.’ Everyday I used to tell him, ‘I’m not a quitter, I’m not going to give up.'”

LBs coach Kevin Greene and LB Clay Matthews

When he came to the Packers as a first-round pick in ’09, Matthews had some natural ability that almost guaranteed he’d be successful. He plays to the whistle, uses his hands well and runs like the wind. It was up to Greene to harness all that talent and make him a great player. Matthews had 10 sacks as a rookie and 13.5 this year, missing out on 2010 defensive player of the year by two votes.

Matthews: “There’s the fact that he’s not just an Xs and Os guy. He’s been in this league for numerous years, and he excelled at the position in which I play, so he’s able to directly influence my game. I can pick up things from him with everything he teaches me. I’ve had some great coaches in my time and he’s only going to continue to help me in my development, so, yes, he’s helped me tremendously.”

Assistant special teams coach Chad Morton and CB Jarrett Bush

After last season, Bush needed a makeover. He committed too many penalties, made too many mental mistakes and didn’t play up to his abilities. Enter Morton, a former returner and position player on special teams. He recognized Bush’s talents and worked with him all off-season on improving his game. Bush had the best year of career this season.

Bush: “Man, he’s been a stickler on me all season. It’s helped me. Him and ‘Slo’ (special teams coach Shawn Slocum) have helped me tremendously. He’s stayed on me about penalties and do’s and don’ts. Chad has told me a lot of things about special teams, what the returner is looking for and things like that, how to play kickoffs and avoid blocks. I feel like I’ve had extreme success with him. Being a former player, I think it helps. He understands the game.”

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