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Challenge is for defense to grow now

Posted Aug 21, 2012

Patience is a luxury the Packers don’t have. Just look at the opening month of the season.

“San Francisco has the same 11 guys they started on defense last year. We’re going to play a heckuva team,” Packers Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers said.

The Packers will not start on opening day the same 11 guys they started on defense last season. That’s not entirely bad news for a defense that was ranked last in the league, but a lot of young bodies will populate Capers’ defense when the Packers host the 49ers, a team that came within a breath of the Super Bowl last season.

“I’m confident you’re going to see us improve as the season goes on,” Capers said, his voice trailing off into the obvious, which is a schedule that demands that improvement be immediate.

“That’s the challenge.”

Youth will dominate the field again on Thursday, as Capers and Head Coach Mike McCarthy attempt to get a deeper read on the young players on their roster and the gap they have to close before the regular season begins.

“I want to see these rookies,” Capers said, referring to players such as Nick Perry, Jerel Worthy and Casey Hayward, the first three picks of the Packers’ draft class. “It’s their first chance to go through a normal week (of preparation). The young guys have played more than anybody else. You’d like to come out of the preseason with these guys getting as much playing time as they can get.”

Coach Joe Whitt has within his group of cornerbacks the player that would seem poised to make the greatest impact of the rookie class. Seldom has a practice gone by that Hayward hasn’t done something to distinguish himself.

“We’re in the right direction of what we want to do,” Whitt said of his cornerbacks. “Their play speed and physicality are what I’ve asked them to do. I want to see a physical play style and each man, to a man, show their best. It’s what they have to do to show they want to be on the team.”

Hayward is locked in a battle with veteran Jarrett Bush to be the Packers’ starting right cornerback on opening day. Davon House was in the lead for that distinction until sustaining a shoulder injury in the preseason opener that’ll keep House out of action for a second consecutive game.

“I like his presence,” Capers said of Hayward. “I like his aptitude. I think it’s an asset for him to have played in the SEC. He’s been in high-intensity situations.”

Second-year linebacker D.J. Smith is another young defender whose development is critical to the Packers’ improvement on defense. Smith will get his second consecutive start as Desmond Bishop’s replacement at inside linebacker.

“D.J. is doing really well,” inside linebackers coach Winston Moss said. “We’re looking forward to him doing a good job of replacing Bishop. Bishop is a tough loss.”

Smith is one of the Packers’ leading tacklers in the preseason. Another second-year linebacker, Jamari Lattimore, has made strides lately in his transition from outside to inside linebacker.

“Lattimore has a lot of ability. I have a lot of confidence he’ll get better,” Moss said.

Confidence would seem to be in ample supply. It’s time the Packers don’t have.

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