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Thompson goes against grain and trades up

The Sports Xchange
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General manager Ted Thompson's calling card in building a title contender the last few years has been stockpiling draft picks. Thompson broke from his April tradition this year and went on the offensive to bolster his dismal defense.

Thompson traded up three times and used the Packers' first six of eight selections on defensive players.

"We hope we helped all aspects of defense," Thompson said.

Green Bay had the league's worst-ranked defense in 2011 but still managed to go 15-1. A porous pass rush that contributed to the Packers' premature end to the season early in the playoffs after they won the Super Bowl the previous year took precedence in the draft room.

Thompson went for the "juice" of taking Southern Cal's Nick Perry in the first round to pair with Clay Matthews at outside linebacker. In turn, Thompson upgraded the defensive line and the Nick Collins-less secondary by moving up twice in the second round for Michigan State lineman Jerel Worthy and Vanderbilt cornerback Casey Hayward.

BEST PICK

Linebacker Nick Perry: The Packers were desperate to take pressure off Matthews, who was held to a career-low six sacks last season. Perry will be counted on to start and deliver right away.

COULD SURPRISE

Cornerback Casey Hayward: Thompson compensated for the medical-prompted release of Pro Bowl safety Collins before the draft by making a play for the skilled Hayward. He will stay at corner, but winning a starting job would provide intriguing options for the Packers to replace Collins.

A closer look at the Packers' picks:

Round 1/28 -- Nick Perry, LB, 6-3, 265, Southern Cal

The athletic and explosive Perry is being moved from defensive end to outside linebacker to be the pass-rushing complement to former college teammate Clay Matthews. His ability to drop into coverage is a question mark.

Round 2/51 -- Jerel Worthy, DE, 6-2, 308, Michigan State

The first-round prospect's slide down the board enabled the Packers to jump up to get him. Kicking the powerful defensive tackle outside fills a void alongside B.J. Raji.

Round 2/62 -- Casey Hayward, CB, 5-11, 192, Vanderbilt

Aggressive, instinctive playmaker should contribute immediately in nickel-heavy scheme and give savvy veteran Charles Woodson more latitude to play a rover position.

Round 4/132 -- Mike Daniels, DT, 6-0, 291, Iowa

Undersized tackle played big for the Hawkeyes, utilizing quickness and tenacity for team highs the last two seasons in tackles for loss (241/2) and sacks (13). Injury history can't be overlooked.

Round 4/133 -- Jerron McMillian, S, 5-11, 203, Maine

The mid-round pick caught the late-round hopeful by surprise. Packers sold on his upside, however, as a big hitter in the box with decent ball skills on the back end.

Round 5/163 -- Terrell Manning, LB, 6-2, 237, North Carolina State

Two-year starter at outside linebacker will go inside in 3-4. Knee injuries in past hurt his draft stock but a lot to like with his playmaking attributes.

Round 7/241 -- Andrew Datko, OT, 6-6, 321, Florida State

Starter at left tackle since his freshman year, but a recurring shoulder injury ended college career four games into last season.

Round 7/243 - B.J. Coleman, QB, 6-3, 222, Tennessee-Chattanooga

Confident small-school product has the tools to make it at the next level, and training with Packers legend Brett Favre this winter doesn't hurt.

--Clay Matthews and Nick Perry were teammates at USC but never played a down on the field together in their decorated college careers.

Three years after Ted Thompson thought so highly of Matthews to make a rare trade up to get him late in the first round, the Packers general manager held Perry in similar high regard.

"(A) tremendous physical specimen," Thompson said late Thursday night.

With that, a reunion of Matthews and Perry gives Green Bay the pass-rushing bookends it desperately needs in an attempt to resuscitate a defense left for dead last season.

"I played with Clay my freshman year, and since then we've been boys," Perry said. "I'll be glad to be across from him, just to create problems like he (has) and just to be a force on the other side of the ball."

Perry didn't make his mark as a tenacious and productive defensive end for USC until after Matthews graduated to the NFL. The Trojans redshirted Perry as a true freshman in 2008, Matthews' final college season.

As Matthews exploded onto the pro scene with 10 sacks as a rookie with the Packers in 2009, Perry led USC with eight sacks in a reserve role. Perry then started at defensive end as a sophomore and a junior, leading the Pac-12 with 9.5 sacks in the 2011 season before declaring as an early entrant in this year's draft.

Not long after Green Bay took Perry with the 28th pick in the first round Thursday, Thompson and defensive coordinator Dom Capers left no doubt the newest Packer is ticketed for a new position. The 6-foot-3, 271-pound Perry will line up at right outside linebacker -- opposite Matthews' position -- in Capers' established 3-4 scheme when players come in for the rookie orientation camp May 11-13.

"At the end of the day, we thought he'd make a really good addition to our outside linebacker group," Thompson said. "He's played with his hand on the ground, but we're convinced that he's athletic enough to play standing up and do some of the things that we do. A very physical guy, can set the edge, can rush the passer. We feel good about him."

Thompson wasn't fooling anyone when he declared after the addition of Perry that "it wasn't a need pick so much."

The release of Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins the day before the draft and no solid replacement in place notwithstanding, addressing the anemic pass rush had to take precedence going into the three-day proceedings.

"We were able to get more pressure," Capers said simply, when he looked back to the Super Bowl-winning 2010 season, in which the Packers had the league's fifth-rated defense, buoyed by 47 sacks.

Green Bay mustered just 29 sacks last season, when its unstoppable offense covered up for so many flaws by the league's worst-ranked defense as the Packers won 15 of 16 games before their quick flameout in the playoffs. The defense allowed an NFL-record 4,988 passing yards in the regular season.

"The pressure helps the coverage, and the coverage helps the pressure," Capers said. "Last year, we weren't pleased, really, with either area. What we're looking to do is go back to work and find a way to get back to pressuring that quarterback like we did a couple years ago and cover a lot better."

Thompson is banking on the athletically imposing Perry to fill a huge void. The absence of a playmaker on the right side negatively impacted Matthews, whose sacks dipped appreciably from 13.5 in 2010 to six, which equaled the paltry production by the rest of the team's outside linebackers in the regular season.

"The basis of our defense starts with being able to threaten offenses from both sides," Capers said.

For the Matthews-Perry marriage to be as fruitful as his new employers envision is going to require some tough love the next few months.

Perry let it be known in the weeks leading up to the draft he preferred to stay at defensive end. He took the high road after the Packers selected him with the intention to turn him into a linebacker.

"It's here. I can't control it," Perry said. "This is something I love doing; I love playing football. I'm here to do whatever it takes to compete. Whatever I can do to help the team, I'm here for that."

Perry doesn't feel he will need to shed any weight in making the transition to a stand-up position that will showcase his explosive pass-rushing abilities but also will have him backpedaling into coverage on occasion.

Capers is optimistic about pulling off the conversion with this blue-chip player, but Thompson tempered the expectations.

"I think he'll be fine," Thompson said. "He'll need some coaching, just like we do with all of our players as they come in."

What's next for Thompson to accomplish as the draft winds into Day 2 is to get a potential heir to Collins at free safety, possibly a long-term successor to the departed Scott Wells at center and perhaps add another young player to a promising, but inexperienced group of running backs. The Packers have one pick each in rounds 2 and 3 on Friday night, then stand to be extremely busy Saturday with nine selections.

The first-round grab of Perry comes in a week that started with the release of two prominent players -- 12-year left tackle Chad Clifton and Collins, the latter of whom the club wasn't willing to put back on the field after he underwent neck surgery last September. Clifton, who was coming off back surgery after last season, failed his physical.

Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

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