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Packers' McCarthy considers changes on defense

The SportsXchange

INDIANAPOLIS -- On a day when Mike McCarthy shot down recent offseason speculation that the Green Bay Packers' underachieving defense would be getting lighter up front, the head coach let on to some significant changes potentially in the works.

One of those could be turning to Micah Hyde, a budding young cornerback, at safety next season with the position in need of an upgrade.

"Micah's, to me, a multiple-position player," McCarthy said at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis on Friday. "I'd like to see Micah compete to play all three downs on defense. So, if there's a personnel group that he has to play safety, yeah, that's an option.

"He's also played nickel, he's played dime, he's played corner. He's definitely someone that I think has earned the opportunity to compete to be on the field all three downs."

Hyde, a fifth-round draft pick last year, has been compared to Charles Woodson, a former Packers playmaker who made the conversion from cornerback to safety later in his career. Hyde primarily worked in the slot as Green Bay's third cornerback and started three games as a rookie, finishing with 54 tackles, four pass breakups, a sack and a forced fumble.

By comparison, M.D. Jennings, who started the majority of games alongside top safety Morgan Burnett, produced 79 tackles, two pass breakups, a sack and a fumble recovery.

None of Green Bay's safeties had an interception.

"Morgan was very productive as far as tackles (106, ranking second on the team), but, yeah, we want more plays made by our safeties. I think that's important," McCarthy said. "We need to go back, which we have, and look at exactly how we're utilizing everybody."

McCarthy made a strong statement Friday about what's in store for the defense, which ranked 25th overall in the league last season but still will have Dom Capers as its coordinator.

Injuries certainly were a culprit, especially losing All-Pro outside linebacker Clay Matthews to a thumb injury at two different points in the season. Yet, McCarthy, in retrospect, believes the Packers didn't get the most out of the players they had available.

"The things we're going to focus on (on) defense, and we'll go through this in more detail when the players get back in April (for the start of the offseason program), but we've got to do a better job of utilizing our personnel," McCarthy said. "We've had a situation with our defense that there's a lot of change, we had a lot of moving parts, and we've got to do a better job of planning for that, training that way starting in April.

"We have a lot of creativity in our defense, a lot of scheme, but the reality is we didn't get to a lot of it this past year. We're taking too much home with us after we're playing games. At the end of the day, the coaches are responsible for building a plan to put players in a position to be successful, and we've got to make sure that we are emptying our guns each and every week, and that'll be a focus of ours on defense. And, by doing that, I think we can do a little better job of giving players more than one role, utilizing more players in the flow."

McCarthy singled out defensive end Datone Jones as a player who needs to be on the field more.

Jones, the team's first-round draft pick last spring, played sparingly on defense for much of the season. Though hampered at the outset after suffering a severe ankle injury during the preseason, Jones appeared in every game but didn't make one start and finished the season with all of 19 tackles and 3.5 sacks.

"At the end of the day, Datone Jones needs to be on the field and being utilized," McCarthy said.

"(He's) a very talented young man," the coach added. "His injury (in) training camp set him back. 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 'em just because of the way the season went with our injuries. I'm looking forward to getting him back in the offseason. I feel strongly Datone will be one of those second-year players that takes a huge jump, and that'll be my expectations for him."

Jones just might wind up having to become the linchpin of Green Bay's defensive line.

All three starting linemen in the 3-4 scheme McCarthy and Capers plan to retain are due to become unrestricted free agents. Speculation is former first-round selection B.J. Raji and 34-year-old Ryan Pickett won't be coming back, while the return of Johnny Jolly, who turned 31 on Friday and missed the last three games with a neck injury, is uncertain.

However, if McCarthy is to be taken at his word, the 6-foot-4, 285-pound Jones isn't the epitome of what the Packers are seeking for their linemen from a size standpoint if an overhaul comes to pass. Jolly, Pickett and Raji all weighed at least 325 pounds last season.

"I've never been part of a conversation that you want your D-linemen to be smaller, so that's not accurate," said McCarthy, refuting a national report that indicated otherwise. "We want to continue our process, as far as evaluating D-linemen. 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 that can play both the rush outside position and maybe make some impact 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, faster, longer and things like that. We're definitely not going to be smaller."

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