McCarthy denies defense will get smaller

INDIANAPOLIS -- The full scope of the changes the Green Bay Packers have planned defensively remain unclear, but coach Mike McCarthy insisted that getting smaller up front will not be part of the process.

Still, what can’t be dismissed is the distinct possibility the Packers might let go of all three of their starting defensive linemen -- Johnny Jolly, Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji, a combination that weighed 1,000 pounds.

All were in the final year of their contracts last season, and there has been little or no conversation about bringing any of them back.

“I’ve never been part of a conversation that you want your D-linemen to be smaller,” McCarthy said Friday at the NFL combine. “That’s not accurate.”

McCarthy revealed last week that he has plans to make changes to a defense that ranked 25th in the NFL last season. Part of that included a minor restructuring of defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ staff following the resignation of outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene.

But there will be adjustments in scheme and personnel that will play out over the next several months.

“We want to continue our process as far as evaluating our D-linemen,” McCarthy said. “We will be a little different on defense as far as how we utilize our defensive players, particularly our front players, because we do have a number of players who can play both the rush outside position and maybe make some plays from the inside position.

“But our evaluation as far as what we’re going to do, bringing defensive linemen into our program, if anything you always want to get bigger, stronger and faster and things like that. We’re definitely not going to be a smaller.”

In fact, ever since Capers was hired as the Packers defensive coordinator in 2009, he has made it no secret that one of the keys to his scheme has long been having big, run-stopping defensive linemen in his base 3-4. Through Week 9 of last season, the combination of Jolly (325 pounds), Pickett (338) and Raji (337) played a major part in the fact that the Packers ranked 5th in the league in rushing defense, a figure that plummeted to 25th by season’s end.

“I think we have a very solid defense coming back in terms of personnel,” Packers general manager Ted Thompson said Friday. “Like I said, we like to have our own guys back, and if we can find value in the free agent market to help us we’ll do that, too. We’ll do whatever, as will the 31 other teams. They’re all going to go about this the same way.”

There is reason to think the Packers might be trending smaller up front. They have added more young, quick-twitch defensive linemen like Mike Daniels (fourth-round pick in 2012) and Datone Jones (first-round pick in 2013), and McCarthy on Friday mentioned specifically getting the 285-pound Jones more involved in his second season.

“There’s a number of packages that he was a big part of, a primary part of, and frankly we really didn’t get to a lot of them just because of the way the season went with our injuries,” McCarthy said. “Getting him back in the offseason, I feel he’s one of those second-year players who take a huge jump. That will be my expectations for him.”