Rookies 2012: They Don't Have to be Great

How much should fans expect from the Packers' defensive rookies?

If you're like me and tend to obsessively follow every piece of off-season news coverage about the Green Bay Packers, you probably caught this piece from ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert that went up yesterday. Seifert interviewed Packers outside linebacker coach Kevin Greene about the development of rookie first-round OLB Nick Perry. Here's what Greene had to say about the effect the rookie might have on Clay Matthews:

"If [Matthews] doesn't have a credible threat on the other side," Greene said, "then offensive coordinators say, 'Hey, let's just take this 52 out of the game and we'll be fine.' … But if you have another dog on the other corner, they have to say, '52, now he's tough, but we can't afford to always double team him, because they've got that big dog over there and he's hunting. So we've got to pick our spots when we double Clay, sometimes we have to solo him, because we've got to hit that guy with two on this series. Sometimes we have double him. Now we've got to double Clay with two and we're taking our chance one-on-one with this other big dog on the corner.'

"See what I'm saying? That's why it's so important."

This is kind of what I've been saying since the draft ended. It would be great if Perry turned into the next Aldon Smith or Brooks Reed; it would be great if Jerel Worthy went all Ndamukong Suh on Green Bay's opponents. But for the Packers to be successful in 2012, they and the rest of the rookie class don't have to be great on their own. The Packers already have plenty of talent in the secondary, even with the departure of Nick Collins. All the new arrivals have to do is provide a halfway decent pass-rush, and take some of the pressure off Matthews and B.J. Raji to produce. If Tramon Williams and Sam Shields get back to their 2010 form, the worst pass defense in NFL history last year suddenly doesn't look all that bad.

But even that's not a hard-and-fast requirement. Here's the bottom line: The Packers probably don't need a top-five defense to get back to the Super Bowl. If Aaron Rodgers is even in the neighborhood of how good he was last year, a middle-of-the-pack defense would do. In the interest of tempered expectations, the goal for the Packers' rookies should be to play solid, fundamental football first and foremost. Tackle securely. Don't drop coverage and go freelancing. Know your assignments and follow them. That alone would probably make a sizeable improvement on D. If the Packers can do that, they have a very real chance at playing for the Lombardi Trophy again in 2012.

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