Dynamic Duo? Top picks Perry and Jones are the key to the Packers 2013 defense
By Tyler Dunne, Journal Sentinel
~GREEN BAY – He repeated the number himself – “579” – at the NFL scouting combine. Mike McCarthy and the Green Bay Packers will not escape that nightmare at Candlestick Park any time soon. There’s no quick fix for a team that shuns free agency. Wiggle room is nonexistent for a team allotting $176 million to two players.
No, overcoming the 49ers – making sure 579 total yards never happens again – starts with Green Bay’s last two first-round picks. Nick Perry at outside linebacker. Datone Jones at defensive end. In both cases, the Packers banked on upside, athleticism. They’re the ones that must corral 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Safer choices were available at each spot for Ted Thompson. Safeties who can start immediately. A 300-pound lineman on either side to compete. But in building a perennial playoff team, two players have eluded Thompson.
A pass rusher opposite Clay Matthews. A 3-4 defensive end.
Mending the defense starts with Perry and Jones.
“He’s very quick off the ball,” Thompson said of Jones, “and he’s got the ability to accelerate, the feet to close on a quarterback, and I think it’s impressive the way an athlete like that can play with his hands and play square along the line of scrimmage.”
Not a bad description. On paper, he fits perfectly. UCLA coach Jim Mora Jr.’s NFL-ready scheme put Jones on the fast track to the NFL.
Yet there’s also no ignoring Thompson’s Tebow-like aim with defensive linemen. He connected on B.J. Raji. Beyond the ninth-overall pick, none of the 13 draft picks have been difference-makers.
Justin Harrell was one of the worst picks in franchise history. There’s still hope for Mike Neal, but injuries have hounded the 2010 second-round selection. Meanwhile, Jerel Worthy isn’t a prototypical defensive end and could miss the 2013 season with his torn ACL.
So, to use his own baseball analogy, Thompson keeps swinging.
There’s indisputable upside with Jones, with Perry.
North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams would’ve been a nice pick, a space-eater that gives Green Bay peace of mind in its contract negotiations with Raji. But Williams isn’t the versatile athlete that Jones is.
Two years ago, the Packers had a chance at safety Harrison Smith, an instant cog in Minnesota’s defense. Instead, they chose Perry. The USC linebacker disappeared for troubling stretches on film – he blended in – but he also was a 265-pound man with 4.64 speed and a 38-inch vertical leap. Those are rare.
A defense that orbits around Matthews needs another playmaker or two. The 2010 Super Bowl team was scattered with them.
Up front, Cullen Jenkins had seven sacks in 11 games. Charles Woodson was in his prime, fresh off defensive player of the year honors. Nick Collins was ripping through the Pittsburgh Steelers offense for one of his 28 turnovers in seven years.
All three, now, are gone. If Perry and Jones pay off, Green Bay’s defense can shift into Super Bowl form. If not, two gaping voids remain.
Jones says all the right things. Whereas Perry is a man of few words with the media – soft-spoken, reserved – Jones said he wants to be the next J.J. Watt. And moments after the Packers drafted him, often a time for clichés and tempered expectations, Jones added that he watched the late Reggie White as a kid.
White’s play-in, play-out tunnel vision is something he vows to bring to Green Bay.
“He didn’t want to know what was going on in the backfield,” Jones said. “He didn’t want to know the personnel. The only thing he knew was to beat the guy across from him and that’s the way I grew up playing this game.
“I put my pads on and I played, and the reason I’m so versatile is because I played one way. I just want to defeat the man across from me and make the play.”
There wasn’t much of that in the playoffs these last two years. Two different quarterbacks sent Green Bay packing in different ways – Eli Manning with his precision, Kaepernick with his legs and rocket arm.
The Packers hope these two picks change that.
“I feel like I put the work in,” Jones said, “anything’s possible.”
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