Tha Sports Junkies 101

TSJ101 Training Camp Edition: Young Defense Impresses For Packers

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When most people think Packers football they think offense, and with a QB like Aaron Rodgers running the show that’s understandable. However, the young breed of talent mixed with the veteran leadership of the defense seems to be clicking in recent years.

When the offense was going through monstrous struggles in 2015 it was the defense that had to pick them up. This has been the blueprint so far in the 2016 preseason as well.

It’s obviously a little early to start comparing a defense made up of mostly 2nd sting players to the ’85 Bears, but there is promise all around the field.

Starting LB’s Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews both have yet to dress the first two games leaving great opportunities for many young players. Third round pick Kyler Fackrell out of Utah State and 4th round pick Blake Martinez out of Stanford have both had their moments.

Fackrell’s came in game 1 against the Browns. He is well known for his speed rush on the outside, something he has in common with fellow outside linebacker Clay Matthews. Although after numerous failed attempts he began crashing the B gap and putting pressure on the Browns in different ways.

Finally, the Browns line missed an assignment and Fackrell got his outside rush and was able to get to QB Cody Kessler before he even knew what hit him for his first career sack.

Blake Martinez had a much quieter debut. His day was defined by a missed tackle. After a perfect read on a run play he met Brown’s running back Duke Johnson at the line but failed to wrap him up and allowed a 12 yard run.

No player is going to finish 100% of the tackles they attempt, but it’s about how they come back from it. Martinez showed his resolve in the game and in week 2 versus Oakland.

With the Packers still searching for an AJ Hawk replacement, Martinez showed he is capable of patrolling the middle. Missed tackle and all against Cleveland, he disrupted many plays through his pass rush and his coverage skills.

Against Oakland on Thursday it appeared Martinez found his footing. He was much more visible on every down and showed off his speed to the ball often. One of his most impressive plays came on special teams. After a 54-yard punt the returner for Oakland lost the ball long enough for Martinez to beat everyone from both teams down the field and end the return before it started.

Overall, these two LB’s seem like quality additions to an already crowded group consisting of Peppers, Matthews, Sam Barrington, Joe Thomas, Jake Ryan, Nick Perry, Carl Bradford, and Lerentee McCray.

Along with the excellent play of the young LB’s comes the play of the always improving secondary. Last year’s NFL Draft resulted in the selection of All-Rookie Team corner Damarious Randall out of Arizona State. Randall had 3 interceptions last year and disrupted many more plays.

The young corner made an impact Thursday against Oakland when he picked off a Derek Carr pass late in the second half. Struggling to get over midfield Carr aired it out to Amari Cooper deep down the field and Randall adjusted to the ball mid air like a receiver leaping for a tremendous interception.

Randall‘s pick once again ended momentum for the Raiders and added to his list of game-changing plays in his short career.

Josh Hawkins filled in for Randall in the second half and also made a highlight reel play. The former East Carolina corner read an under-thrown pass from Connor Cook and made the most of it.

After leaping up to deflect the pass he showed great concentration and pulled it in with one hand before it fell to the ground. He also managed to show his speed and athleticism returning the pick 47 yards to the Raiders 30.

So far in the preseason the defense has allowed 308 yards in total with only 103 yards rushing and 205 yards through the air (via ESPN). Both the offensive and defensive lines for Green Bay have been dominate and have led to the impressive 2-0 start.

It is a great sign to see such success for the young players among the defense in the early stages of the season. The experience that players like Martinez and Hawkins get during these exhibition games make the sometimes tedious preseason worth it.

Once veterans like Matthews and Peppers make their way back to the lineup it will be interesting to see how they infuse themselves with the young talent.

The Packers are set up to be a championship contender again this year, but it will take all of these young guys learning their roles and improving every day to reach their Super Bowl potential. The resurgence of defense in Green Bay is underway.