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Beyond Xs and Os, energy and communication hallmarks of Jeff Hafley’s defense with Packers

Under new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley, the Green Bay Packers are making the switch from a 3-4 scheme — which has been run under various coordinators in Green Bay since 2009 — to a 4-3 base defense.

However, when Matt LaFleur set out on his defensive coordinator search, the ultimate goal wasn’t to make the Packers be a 4-3 defense. That was, instead, the result of bringing in Hafley. The goal was to find the right fit, the right person, which of course, LaFleur believes is Hafley. It just so happens that Hafley runs a 4-3 scheme.

“I wanted to get who I thought was the best for us,” said LaFleur when speaking with reporters on Thursday. “And that’s not to discredit anybody else. It’s just, every situation’s a little bit different. I equate putting a coaching staff together to, it’s like putting a puzzle together. And how does each piece fit? And that’s an important part of it, the fit, and he just happens to run more of a 4-3 and I felt comfortable with what we had.”

Beyond the 3-4 vs. 4-3 scheme. Beyond the Xs and Os. Beyond what appears to be a high level of flexibility from Hafley to adjust his defensive gameplan week-to-week — all important aspects — LaFleur wanted a new energy on the defensive side of the ball from the coaches, which in turn hopefully impacts the play of this unit in a positive way.

“That is an expectation I have,” said LaFleur of the coaching staff bringing the energy. “If you want your players to bring great energy every day, if you don’t do it as a coach then there’s a problem there. I can’t demand that out of our guys and not expect that out of myself or our coaches. No matter what you’re coaching. Yeah, the energy is an important piece to that.”

The introductory press conference is not an indicator of success for a coach and in February, with everyone at 0-0, there is little pressure, and optimism runs rampant throughout every NFL facility. But if there is such a thing as “winning” a press conference, Hafley did that, and doing so started with the energy he brought and the vibe he established.

Those elements can’t always be described and certainly not quantified, but it’s one of those things where you know it when you see it. There was a different feeling sitting in the media auditorium on Thursday.

Joining Hafley in bringing the juice to the defensive side of the ball is assistant defensive line coach Vince Oghobaase, linebacker coach Anthony Campanille, and pass game coordinator Derrick Ansley, along with Ryan Downard returning as the defensive backs coach and Jason Rebrovich to coach the defensive line.

“Hafley was a big part of the process in terms of getting the right staff around him,” said LaFleur. “Guys that he not necessarily knew but guys that he respected, that he trusts are going to be able to carry out the vision for the defense, and I’m excited for you guys to get to know these guys.

“I think you’ll see a lot of high-energy coaches, and I think that’ll help our players bring out that energy that we need to be able to go out and compete to the best of our ability on Sundays.”

Energy is great and an important element to have, but it means very little if strong relationships aren’t established and maintained.

Building those relationships with players is something that Hafley has prioritized throughout his coaching career. Doing so starts with open communication. This communication aspect is a two-way street for Hafley. He will give feedback and he will receive feedback with the ultimate goal being all around improvement.

“I think there has to be great communication but I think first there has to be great relationships. These guys aren’t just going to trust me when I walk into a room because I’m the defensive coordinator. I have to earn that from them and they have to earn it from me. Once you establish that trust and you develop a relationship, then you can have hard conversations.

“I have said it before: I picked Ronde Barber’s brain on how to play nickel and I learned more from him than any coach I’ve ever been around. He’s probably one of the best nickels – probably is the best nickel – to ever play the game in that scheme. Why wouldn’t I ask him those questions? It’s the same with Sherm. I’ve talked to Sherm quite a bit as I’ve taken this job because I have a great relationship with him.”

Hafley and this Packers’ defensive coaching staff is tasked with changing the narrative, which has been that while there is a lot of talent on that side of the ball, this unit has never consistently played up to its full potential.

To accomplish that, there of course will be schematic changes, and ones that go way beyond switching to a 4-3 defense. But truly seeing that turnaround take place will begin in the coming months with what happens off the field rather than on. For Hafley and his staff, that entails bringing the energy while fostering relationships through clear lines of communication.

If he can successfully do all of that, then the sky’s the limit for this Packers team if a consistently good defense can be paired with the potential that the offensive side of the ball possesses.

“I think you’re going to get a lot of coaching,” said Hafley, “and I think you’re going to get, I think you’re going to see a lot of juice on the field from that staff, but that doesn’t mean we’re yelling. I want to be demanding but never demeaning. I want guys out there who have energy and enjoy being around, we’re going to have some players who run around and run to the ball and get after it, and our coaches need to be the same way. And that’s really important to me.

“So I think there’s a part of being cerebral, but when we get a chance to get out on that field, we’ve got to go. But I don’t think we’re going to be the type of staff – I know we’re not going to be – that motivates through fear at all. These guys are going to know we care about them, that we want what’s best for them, and that we’re in it with them. We’re going to push them, and they’re going to push us.”

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire