A team with a patient draft-and-develop philosophy needs its young players on defense to develop at a quicker-than-usual pace. The improvement Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers has planned for his unit would seem to depend on it.

“We’re going to have to. You can count the numbers out there,” Capers said as he reviewed the progress of his defense one preseason game and 16 practices into training camp.

The numbers suggest that as many as four rookie or second-year players could be in the starting lineup on defense for the Packers this season, and the depth chart on that side of the ball is likely to include several other players with limited NFL experience.

“We got the young guys quite a few reps,” Capers said in reviewing the preseason loss in San Diego last Thursday. “It’ll be interesting to see how much progress they make this week.”

The Packers host the Cleveland Browns this Thursday, and young talent on defense, such as first-round draft pick Nick Perry, second-round picks Jerel Worthy and Casey Hayward, and 2011 sixth-round pick D.J. Smith are scheduled for significant playing time. Perry is the Packers’ starting left outside linebacker, Hayward has stepped into the right cornerback position on the No. 1 defense, Worthy fits prominently into the Packers’ plans at defensive end and in the team’s “nickel” package, and Smith has stepped in for the injured Desmond Bishop at inside linebacker.

“I was encouraged by a number of things. I like the way we played the run. I like the way we played on third down. We had the short-yardage stop,” Capers said of his unit’s play in San Diego. “The things I didn’t like are the big plays. That’s going to be a priority for us.”

The Packers have lost Bishop for an extended period of time, possibly for the season, and second-year cornerback Davon House, one of the stars of training camp, sustained a shoulder injury that clouds his future. Head Coach Mike McCarthy said House’s injury would likely require surgery if it doesn’t respond to treatment.

“I thought he was really off to a good start,” Capers said of House. “Casey Hayward ended up playing a lot of plays. We’ve got to get as much of a look at these young guys as possible, to see where we are.”

Perry’s performance in San Diego, which included a sack on the first pass play of the game, gave the Packers a snapshot of where they are with him.

“I think you saw his power. I think he’s a powerful man that can set the edge for you. I think he’s going to improve as we go along. I see two, three plays every day in practice that make you say that’s the way we want to see it right there,” Capers said of Perry.

Apparently, Capers has seen enough in his young players to increase his expectations for this season.

“I’m pretty confident this defense is going to improve as we go along, once guys settle in and get a feel for the speed of the game. The key is getting confidence. You need to know when you run through that tunnel what you’re going to do and that you’re going to do it a hundred miles an hour,” Capers said.

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