GREEN BAY—Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews haven’t said much during training camp, but what they said on Wednesday bodes well for the 2014 Packers defense.
Peppers indicated he’s “feeling comfortable” with his new outside linebacker position, while Matthews doesn’t foresee “any limitations” with his twice-broken thumb heading into Saturday’s preseason opener in Tennessee.
Peppers’ transition from defensive end and Matthews’ health carry as much, and probably more, importance than the lone depth-chart question on defense of who’s starting at safety. As the best pass-rush tandem Dom Capers has employed as defensive coordinator since coming to Green Bay five years ago, the two veteran stars will be the players opposing offenses focus on most.
“I’m feeling good about it, actually,” Peppers said regarding his role and the new position he has assumed. “Very similar to playing defensive end and very similar to things I’ve been asked to do throughout my whole career, so I’m feeling really good about it.”
Matthews is similarly positive about his thumb, which he said is not 100 percent, yet, but it’s getting close.
“I’ve been very critical of myself watching film as far as really looking at if the hand’s an issue. But I can say that it’s definitely coming along tremendously,” he said. “It’s getting stronger each and every day.”
Matthews believes the defense is getting stronger, too, as the players have now gone through all the tweaks and adjustments to the scheme through the first 12 days of camp. He described the changes as “turning guys loose and allowing them to do what fits them best,” while Peppers added they’re “building trust right now.”
“I love the way we get after the quarterback,” Matthews said.
That pressure helped produce several opportunities for interceptions during Wednesday’s workout. Cornerback Jarrett Bush snagged a pick for the second straight day, this one off a deflection caused by linebacker Jake Doughty’s hit on receiver Alex Gillett. Later, Micah Hyde leaped high in the end zone to pull down an interception in traffic.
“We’ve gotten our hands on a few balls,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “It was definitely good to see our secondary start bringing some of them in. We’ve had some opportunities. The coverage has been tight.”
Other chances were missed, though, including one by Matthews when he dropped into coverage and Matt Flynn’s pass appeared to go right through his hands. Matthews felt he should have had it.
“Flynn put a little extra zip on that and kind of caught me off-guard, but it won’t happen on gameday,” he said.
The offense made its share of plays, too, including a sliding TD catch by Myles White on a pinpoint, bullet throw by Chase Rettig, and a leaping TD grab by tight end Andrew Quarless when Scott Tolzien might have been simply trying to throw the ball out of bounds. Rookie Davante Adams also had a leaping one-handed TD catch from Flynn, though Adams’ day was spoiled by a couple of drops later.
No play was more eye-catching than the touchdown grab by rookie receiver Jeff Janis. Running a fade to the back corner, Janis was blanketed by cornerback Sam Shields but reached up one-handed to snare Tolzien’s throw and dragged his feet in bounds just inside the back of the end zone.
It was quite the debut for Janis, who began practicing on Monday but was held out of full-contact work until Wednesday, when he was given limited reps. He could remain limited on Saturday in Tennessee, too, but he said he’s ready for whatever playing time he gets.
“I just think the biggest thing for me is making plays when they come my way,” he said. “If I can show that, then I can get confidence in the coaches and the quarterbacks and, hopefully, when they put me out there they can trust me to make the play.”
Drafted in the seventh round, Janis hasn’t caught any 11-on-11 passes from Aaron Rodgers, yet, but Wednesday’s big play legitimately entered him into the battle for roster spots at receiver. Fellow rookie Jared Abbrederis’ season-ending knee injury removed one contender but didn’t diminish the intensity of the competition.
“He’s got a ways to go,” Rodgers said of Janis, whom he teased about the case of shingles that sidelined him for the first week of camp. “Jeff’s a talented guy. I think we saw in the spring and summer what kind of talent he’s got.
“There’s an opportunity there with Jared going down for him, for Myles, for Alex, for Chris (Harper), for Gerrard (Sheppard) to step in and make some plays.”
They’ll all get a chance starting Saturday night in Nashville.
“You want all your young guys to play,” McCarthy said. “I’m not interested in getting on the plane coming back home and we didn’t have a young player that didn’t get in the game. I’m looking for every young, new player that’s come through our doors (to have) an opportunity Saturday night to show what he’s got.”