McCarthy, Capers will fix defense together

INDIANAPOLIS -- The first hint of it came earlier this month, when Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy was discussing the changes to his staff.

He spoke of setting agenda for the defense, which he knew was in need of repair.

“Vision, I think I said,” McCarthy said during a break from the NFL scouting combine.

Either way, it has become clear that McCarthy, who runs the offense and serves as the playcaller on that side of the ball, will be more involved in the defense, at least in the short term.

“I need to do that more maybe in the offseason,” McCarthy said during an interview at his hotel adjacent Lucas Oil Stadium. “I go through this every year. You can’t do both. I've talked about it. I've researched it. I've talked to other people about it.”

For now, though, it will be a collective effort on the part of McCarthy and Capers, who said he shares the same vision as his boss does to repair a defense that slipped to 25th in the NFL last season. They want it back to the way it played in 2009 and 2010, when it ranked second and fifth in the NFL, respectively, in Capers' first two seasons as the Packers defensive coordinator.

“That’s obviously the goal,” said Capers, who is attending his 29th scouting combine. “We’ll have to see. There’s a lot that goes into it. Right now, there’s a lot of unanswered questions. We’ll have to figure out who we have, and we’ll have to do a really good job through all the phases of the offseason.

“What we did the first year when we came in, I think it’s just a matter of getting a group and figuring out what they can do the best and adapting what they do to what we do best.”

That’s part of the mission at the combine, where Capers and McCarthy not only are scouting potential draft picks but also will continue to hash out the specifics of the changes they plan to implement.

“We’re still working through it,” McCarthy said. “We sat down [after the season] and said there’s some things that I feel we need to change. We talked about a bunch of them with him, the staff, and Dom and I will get together down here, and hopefully we’ll have it sorted out here in the next month and have it ready for the players when they get back here in April.”

As McCarthy said on Friday, Capers agreed that the Packers don’t plan to get smaller on the defensive line. But at the same time, they want to be able to handle the challenges that high-speed, spread offenses present.

“You need both,” Capers said.

What McCarthy doesn't want is what happened last season, when the injury problems forced the Packers to toss out a good portion of their defensive plays that were practiced over and over in training camp.

Capers’ defense was ranked 11th overall and fifth against the run heading into Week 9 last season before its free-fall ensued.

“We've got to address the fact that we don’t have control over exactly who’s available each week,” McCarthy said. “So something has to adjust or charge or emphasize. I think it’s a very practical approach, a common-sense approach. The availability of our players, we don't have nine guys on defense that average 1,000 reps a year -- we never have -- so let's quit training our defense that way. That’s really what it comes down to.”

In short, it means trying to become more versatile regardless of who's available on a given week. McCarthy, however, cautioned not to take that to mean the Packers will overload the players with so much scheme that confusion causes miscommunications that lead to breakdowns.

Rather, he’s shooting for a more-creativity, less-volume approach.

“We weren't as multiple last year out of necessity,” Capers said. “If you look over the first four years, we were very multiple. But we weren't as much last year.”

While the coaches figure out how to use their players -- whether cornerback Micah Hyde will play more safety, if there’s a new role in store for Nick Perry, how much more they can get out of Datone Jones and so on -- and general manager Ted Thompson works on re-signing players like cornerback Sam Shields, defensive lineman B.J. Raji and outside linebacker Mike Neal and finding new ones either in free agency or the draft, McCarthy and Capers will continue to look for ways to restore the defense to what it was in Capers' first two seasons in Green Bay.

“I have great confidence in Dom and the defensive staff, but the challenges that any staff has -- and it's obviously a good staff when you’re together that long and you’re successful as we've been -- you can pull away from the foundation,” McCarthy said. “You've got a lot of ideas, too creative, and the trap you've always got to watch yourself that you can fall into -- and I’m not saying we’re there -- but there's times that we were probably close to that, is who you think you are and who you really are is not the same.”