Better, worse or the same? Packers' D looks the same, which isn't great

Are the Packers willing to commit to Aaron Jones long term? (1:14)

Rob Demovsky details what the Packers and Aaron Jones will have to do if they want to meet Jones' wish to be in Green Bay for life. (1:14)

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- When last anyone saw the Green Bay Packers’ defense, it was run over by the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game to the tune of 285 yards rushing.

The Packers made only one major addition to that side of the ball in free agency and waited until the fifth round of the NFL draft before they finally took a defensive player.

So are they better, worse or the same as the unit defensive coordinator Mike Pettine fielded in that dreadful performance in the conference title game? After answering a similar question about the offense on Wednesday, here’s a position-by-position breakdown for the defense:

Defensive line

Additions: Treyvon Hester (street free agent), Gerald Willis (waivers), Willington Previlon (undrafted free agent)

Losses: None.

Returners: Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, Tyler Lancaster, Montravius Adams, Kingsley Keke

Better, worse or the same? The same.

Unless, of course, one of the returners emerges. Say Keke, a fifth-round pick last year who played just 108 snaps as a rookie. Or it could be Adams, a third-round pick in 2017 who hasn’t played more than 212 snaps in any of his first three seasons.

“[We are ] developing some depth in that room, so that means Keke is going to have to step up, Montravius is going to have step up,” Pettine said. “We are excited about the two guys that we brought in as free agents -- Treyvon Hester and Gerald Willis are guys that both have done some good things on tape. It’s a shame we haven’t had them here in spring to see it in person, but we’re looking forward to getting those guys here in camp.”

Inside linebackers

Additions: Christian Kirksey (free agent), Kamal Martin (fifth-round pick), Krys Barnes (rookie free agent)

Losses: Blake Martinez (Giants), B.J. Goodson (Browns)

Returners: Oren Burks, Ty Summers, Curtis Bolton

Better, worse or the same? Better.

As long as Kirksey can stay healthy -- he has finished the past two seasons on injured reserve and didn’t play after Week 2 last year because of a torn pectoral -- he could be an upgrade in the impact-play department from the reliable but unspectacular Martinez. Pettine, who coached Kirksey in Cleveland, now has a three-down linebacker tailored for his system rather than the one he inherited in Martinez. The Packers were never going to pay Martinez what the Giants did ($10.25 million a year), especially considering his lack of big plays. Kirksey ($6.5 million a year) had more career sacks, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries in his first four years than Martinez before the injuries hit.

“We’re not just bringing a really good player into the room, I mean, this is a guy who has great leadership ability,” Pettine said of Kirksey. “He already has a head start on learning the system with him being drafted, obviously, when I was in Cleveland. So, certainly, it’s a risk when you look at it, but it was a risk that we were more than willing to take.”

Burks, a third-round pick in 2018, was going to be a starter to open last season if not for a preseason pec injury that kept him out of the first four weeks, and Summers was a dynamo on special teams who’s still looking for his shot on defense.

Outside linebackers

Additions: Jonathan Garvin (seventh-round pick), Jamal Davis (waivers), Delontae Scott (rookie free agent), Tipa Galeai (rookie free agent)

Losses: Kyler Fackrell (Giants)

Returners: Za'Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Rashan Gary, Tim Williams, Randy Ramsey

Better, worse or the same? The same.

And considering what the Smiths did last season, that’s not all bad. They gave the Packers the only pair of 12-sack teammates in the league (13.5 for Za’Darius and 12 for Preston). Za’Darius led the NFL in disruptions (combined total of hurries, pressures or sacks), according to NFL Next Gen Stats, while Preston finished second in the league in sacks on third down (7.0), only half a sack behind league leader Joey Bosa. But the Packers need someone to alleviate some of the workload on the Smiths, who combined for nearly 2,000 snaps. This is where Gary, the No. 12 overall pick in 2019, comes in. He played just 257 snaps as a rookie.

“He needs to take a big jump,” Pettine said of Gary. “When you go back and look at last year’s tape, he did some really good things with us in the time he was in there. I do see Rashan taking a significantly increased role. I do think at times where Preston and ‘Z’ probably played maybe a little too much, that we do want to take some off their plate. So I do know Rashan is certainly built to handle giving those guys a break. I just think because of his skill set, we can use him more like we used ‘Z,’ on third down especially. He can kick down inside and rush from a tackle spot as opposed to always being on the edge.”


Additions: Vernon Scott (seventh-round pick), Henry Black (rookie free agent), Frankie Griffin (rookie free agent)

Losses: Ibraheim Campbell (Titans)

Returners: Adrian Amos, Darnell Savage, Raven Greene, Will Redmond

Better, worse or the same? The same.

This position was far down the Packers’ list of needs after the way Amos and Savage played in their first seasons in Green Bay. Amos was exactly what the Packers thought he would be when they signed him in free agency last offseason. He played all but four snaps in the regular season, but his absence was felt when he left the NFC title game after 31 plays because of a shoulder injury. Savage, the No. 21 pick in the 2019 draft, showed his big-play potential (see the pass breakup in Week 2 against the Vikings that turned into an interception for Preston Smith). Greene and Redmond are both more than capable of spot-starting duties.


Additions: DaShaun Amos (street free agent), Marc-Antoine Dequoy (rookie free agent), Stanford Samuels (rookie free agent), Will Sunderland (rookie free agent)

Losses: Tramon Williams (unsigned)

Returners: Jaire Alexander, Kevin King, Josh Jackson, Ka’dar Hollman, Chandon Sullivan, Kabion Ento

Better, worse or the same? Worse.

Unless the Packers re-sign Williams, they’ll have a huge hole in their nickel package. Williams, who turned 37 in March, played 826 snaps last season -- third most at this position behind Alexander (1,125) and King (920). No other corner played more than 381 snaps. Jackson, a second-round pick in 2018, remains a mystery after he played just 103 snaps last season despite being active for all but three games, including the playoffs. Alexander, a Pro Bowl alternate, is a budding star, but King could be entering his final season; he’s scheduled to be a free agent in 2021. This position looks thinner than it should be.