Kevin Greene makes Packers’ OLB conversion go
By Weston Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette
~GREEN BAY – When you dedicate yourself to a draft-and-development system, your coaches need to be proficient in knowing how to mold young players into quality contributors at a quick pace.
If not, the system cannot sustain itself.
Outside of 33-year-old defensive lineman Ryan Pickett, every member of the Green Bay Packers’ starting defense has blossomed and grown within the confines of Lambeau Field.
At no position has that been the case more than at outside linebacker.
The poster child for the Packers’ 3-4 defense has been, Clay Matthews, the franchise’s first player to be elected to the Pro Bowl in each of his first four NFL seasons.
For every Matthews, however, there’s needed to be an Erik Walden, a Frank Zombo and a Dezman Moses.
That is where Kevin Greene comes in.
“You have to give a lot of credit to Kevin Greene,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy of the fifth-year position coach at the draft.
“I’m not trying to disrespect the other coaches. I mean, you’re talking about a man that played the position at a very high level in this defense. There’s a ton of expertise that goes into that position being taught on a daily basis, and I think it’s been reflected in his time here.”
There’s no blueprint for finding prototypes for Dom Capers’ 3-4 defense. Many times it’s based on projections and how the coaching staff and personnel department feels a guy will adjust or transition to a new role.
Sometimes it’s a hit like on a one-year college starter like Matthews and sometimes it’s a whiff like Arizona State defensive lineman Ricky Elmore, who couldn’t adjust to the switch as a sixth-round pick in 2011.
Whatever the case may be, the 50-year-old Greene has made a career out of shaping many small-school or overlooked prospects into valued facets of the Packers’ defense much like Greene did himself during a 15-year NFL career that began as a fifth-round pick out of Auburn in 1987.
This year, Greene will have his hands full. The team is still working to convert 2012 first-round pick Nick Perry from a 4-3 defensive end to outside linebacker after a wrist injury ended his season after six games as a rookie.
However, he also faces a brand-new room of rookies looking to make an impact, including Illinois State’s Nate Palmer, Eastern Michigan’s Andy Mulumba and New Mexico State’s Donte Savage.
The Packers will be counting on their development, too, with Walden leaving for a four-year, $16-million deal in Indianapolis and the team opting to not retain Zombo, who succumbed to injury after a promising rookie season in 2009.
However, Greene has done his research. During the offseason, he got together with Illinois State defensive line coach and D.C. Everest alumnus, Spence Nowinsky, and watched film together of Matthews, Walden and Zombo, while sharing thoughts on how Palmer might fit into the scheme.
After being the only team to bring in Nowinsky’s defensive end in for a visit, the Packers drafted Palmer in the sixth round to his astonished, but the team believes he fits the bill.
Greene has also had conversations with Mike Neal about the 6-foot-3, 294-pound defensive linemen working at the position while counting on Moses to take another step this season.
“He’s just an unbelievable teacher, man,” said Moses, who was one of four undrafted rookies to make the team last season after converting from defensive end at Tulane to outside linebacker in Green Bay.
“He’s very passionate about the game. He stresses things and understands exactly what guys need to push them … His passion for the game allows guys to learn from him quickly. It’s just a pleasure to be able to learn from him. I don’t know too many other coaches who played 15 years at the position, so if he says it, it’s pretty much valid.”
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