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Packers camp day one: Nelson's injury, Matthews and Peppers' PED talk, Rodgers and defensive growth

Wayne Larrivee's Blog
Posted: 4:06 PM, Jul 26, 2016
Updated: 2016-07-26 18:40:55-04
Wayne Larrivee's Packers camp blog: Day one
Wayne Larrivee's Packers camp blog: Day one
Wayne Larrivee's Packers camp blog: Day one
Wayne Larrivee's Packers camp blog: Day one
Wayne Larrivee's Packers camp blog: Day one
Wayne Larrivee's Packers camp blog: Day one
The first day of training camp on the field brings a crowded dance floor in the post practice locker room.  
 
Among the big stories, wide receiver Jordy Nelson is on the PUP list because, in his words, “I had a hiccup in the other knee.“ 
 
Nelson did not reinjure his surgically repaired right ACL, the one he hurt last summer in Pittsburgh that cost him the 2015 season.
 
This latest setback is reportedly not serious, and as Jordy said, “No one needs to freak out.”
 
Well, I imagine lots of people are freaking out anyway.
 
Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers still haven’t talked with the NFL about the Al Jazeera America report that cited them for PED use.
 
The NFL cleared former quarterback Peyton Manning Monday after meeting with investigators recently.  
Neither Matthews nor Peppers indicated when they would meet with league investigators, and in fact, Peppers is letting the union handle the situation.
 
One other news note: Aaron Rodgers said he has not seen the Bachelorette television show in which his brother is a finalist.  He also would not comment on his relationship with his family — nor should he. That’s a private matter. 
 
As far as football stuff goes:
 
I spent some time focused on the defense and in particular the interior of the defensive front seven.  
 
After last season, coach Mike McCarthy said the Packers need to field a championship defense. 
 
I think what he had in mind were the World Champion Denver Broncos.  From down line to back line, that is one of the top defenses we have seen in the NFL in the last two decades. 
 
The Packers last year were a good defense, ranking 15th in the NFL in yardage, 12th in points allowed and 6th in passing yards allowed.  Green Bay was 7th in sacks and 9th in interceptions defensively. 
 
In order to be a great defense in my opinion, you must stop the run.
 
The Packers ranked 21st in the league yielding 119.1 yards rushing per game, but I saw a tough run defense on early downs when the base 3-4 was on the field. Letroy Guion, B.J. Raji and Mike Daniels were salty against the run up front.
 
However, as Bob McGinn in the Journal Sentinel pointed out on Sunday , the Packers were only in their base alignment 17.7% of the defensive snaps.
 
Green Bay gave up 15 runs of 20 plus yards last year, most of them coming against sub-packages.  Matter of fact, opposing quarterbacks rushed for 383 yards against the Green Bay defense!
 
What has to be a bit concerning about the Packers defense is the interior of the front seven where the Packers might be counting on a rookie, nose tackle Kenny Clark, to replace Raji.
 
There are also questions at inside linebacker where Sam Barrington is coming off a season ending foot injury, Jake Ryan is heading into just his second year and Blake Martinez is a rookie who is expected to get a good deal of playing time in the sub-packages.
 
The Packers are counting on Clark early because another big man up front, Mike Pennel, won’t be available the first four weeks of the regular season due to an NFL suspension.
 
That’s a lot to ask of a 20-year-old lineman. Remember, the closer you play to the ball the more difficult this game becomes.
 
Clark will be man-up across from the ball in the base defense.  Raji was an underrated run-stopper inside; the Packers believe Clark is the best run stopping nose tackle coming out of the draft. 
 
The other aspect of this defense I am most curious to see is the emergence of the young inside linebackers. 
 
Barrington is not on the field yet due to that ankle  injury while Ryan and Martinez are getting valuable snaps with the number one unit.
 
The Packers struggled not just against the run but in covering tight ends and running backs in the passing game as well.  To that end, one of the most important new players in camp is Martinez, the fourth round draft pick out of Stanford.
 
Last year, the Packers yielded 12 catches for 130 yards to San Diego tight ends; six catches 105 yards to Denver’s Owen Daniels and Virgil Green.
 
Kyle Rudolph hit them for 100 yards and a touchdown at Minnesota, and in the playoffs Washington’s Jordan Reed made 9 catches for 120 yards and a touchdown.
 
The nickel linebacker often gets the assignment of covering a tight end or a back in pass defenses.  Martinez was drafted to play this role.
 
He has very good instincts, intelligence and the short area quickness to cover a back or tight end. His ability to do so will go a long way to shoring up this defense. 
 
Stopping the run in the sub packages and being able to defend a tight end or running back down field in sub packages are keys to a championship caliber defense.  
 
Two rookies in the middle of the Green Bay front seven could help make this defense championship caliber.