To hear Jerel Worthy tell it, the rookies on the Packers’ defense aren’t entirely up to speed just yet.
Considering the contributions of a half dozen rookies last Thursday to the Packers’ best defensive performance in more than a year, that seems hard to believe. But if it’s true, it will mean this defense is just getting started.
“We’re just trying to get on the same page as the veterans around the locker room and just trying to build,” Worthy said on Tuesday, before the first practice of an extended week of preparation for the Packers’ Week 3 Monday night showdown in Seattle.
“We’re always a step behind a little bit as far as the knowledge, as far as the speed of the game, but as long as we continue to work hard and give good effort out on the field, we’ll make some plays.”
The rookies made plenty of plays in the 23-10 victory over the Bears. Worthy and fellow defensive lineman Mike Daniels each had a sack, safety Jerron McMillian had one interception and nearly a second, and cornerback Casey Hayward recorded three tackles as the dime back. Outside linebackers Nick Perry and Dezman Moses also generated some pressure that was part of the unit’s seven-sack effort, the most sacks in a single game in the Mike McCarthy era.
After the struggles against the 49ers in Week 1, questions were raised as to whether the new season would simply be a repeat of the last on defense. Veteran cornerback Charles Woodson implored everyone to trust him, that in his eyes the defense was destined to improve, and that had to do with the energy and ability he saw in the rookie class.
That vote of confidence no doubt helped during a short week of prep for a division rival.
“This class, we believe in ourselves and we know the skill set we bring to the team,” Worthy said. “One thing our coaching staff instills in us is to let us go play.”
Moses added that he’s likely speaking for everyone when he says the rookies are playing hungry, and the hunger is fed with contributions like those against the Bears.
“As young guys, we understand why they brought us in here,” said Moses, the one undrafted rookie with a regular role. “So we’re trying to give them a spark anytime we’re out there, try to create plays and just help the team overall.”
On the other side of the ball, receiver James Jones reiterated what McCarthy said earlier on Tuesday, that the offense is closer than many think to high gear.
The Packers have just three offensive touchdowns through two games and the efficiency that’s come to be expected from this offense isn’t there, yet.
“It’s just a lot of little things. We’re missing a lot of easy plays out there,” Jones said. “Whether it’s making the routine catch, whether it’s making the tough catch, whether it’s making the key block. We’re very close to being explosive. We were very close to having 21 more points up against the Bears.”
In part, Jones was referring to three potential big throws down the field against Chicago that weren’t hauled in, one by tight end Jermichael Finley, one by receiver Jordy Nelson and one by Jones himself, in the end zone.
Each was a tight throw, none was an easy grab, but all certainly could have been caught. Those big-play opportunities have been few and far between the first two weeks, as both the 49ers and Bears played two deep safeties most of the game.
Cedric Benson’s work on the ground in Week 2 (20 carries, 81 yards) needs to continue in order to open up some other areas.
“We’ll start catching our stride here soon, make some deep plays down the field,” Jones said. “Everybody is playing us two high, so that makes it a little harder, but with the addition of Benson and the way he ran the ball last game, hopefully, we’ll get some one-high coverage.” Additional coverage - Sept. 18