With the Packers playing a 4-3 defense back then, Chillar could play either the strong-side or weak-side linebacker spot – which he did at different times during the year – and he could also contribute on special teams.
Then last year in the 3-4, Chillar played inside linebacker in the nickel defense and also played some strong safety in a modified base package designed to stop the run.
Now Chillar’s horizons are expanding once again. During Monday afternoon’s training camp practice, Chillar moved from his customary inside linebacker spot in the nickel to right outside linebacker, a featured pass-rush position in the scheme.
Along with that change, fellow outside linebacker Clay Matthews was moved from his usual right side to the left side, and Desmond Bishop joined Nick Barnett on the inside at Chillar’s previous nickel spot. Chillar also has taken a few snaps in camp at outside linebacker in the base defense as well.
“I really do enjoy showing that I can play everything,” Chillar said. “I take pride in that. That’s how I train. I enjoyed myself today, and we’ll see where it carries me.”
Head Coach Mike McCarthy didn’t characterize the move as permanent, explaining that it’s an opportunity to see different linebacker combinations on the field. The timing of the change made sense because the projected starter at outside linebacker for 2010, second-year pro Brad Jones, has been out since taking a helmet to the back in the first practice on Saturday.
Green Bay fans will remember when Chillar leaped over Chicago running back Garrett Wolfe to sack quarterback Jay Cutler in the season opener last year, so rushing the passer is nothing new to the seven-year veteran. He said he also played some 3-4 outside linebacker in St. Louis when the Rams went to the alignment on passing downs.
“You’re putting your best athletes on the field, and that’s what you want to do as a defense,” Matthews said. “I think Chillar brings a different aspect. He’s not your prototype outside linebacker. But we’ve seen the guy hurdle a running back and sack the quarterback. I think that speaks volumes for his athleticism, and that’s what we need out of an outside linebacker. … It’s a guy who can do much more than just rush the passer, whether that be drop into coverage, hold the edge, blitz underneath, so on and so forth. I think he brings that to the game, and he’s such a great athlete that we need to get him in there more than just playing nickel.”
During practice on Monday, Chillar made the most of his debut at the new spot, snagging an interception off a deflected screen pass and getting a QB pressure or two in 11-on-11 periods. When he wasn’t on the field, he could be seen chatting regularly with Matthews, who gave him some basic reads and pointers.
“With Brad going down, I think they just want to give me some reps for just in case, later on in the year,” Chillar said. “As I’ve showed in the past, I can play different positions. I take it as a challenge, and it’s fun for me.”
Matthews had just as much fun playing on the other side in the 3-4, which he said “brought me back to my college days a little bit,” when he played on both the right and left sides at USC depending on the play call and the offensive formation.
Matthews welcomes learning the other side at the pro level, saying he’d like to “become a master of both sides,” and more variations to his game should only help the defense. If he is able to move around, it will force offenses to constantly adjust their pass protection schemes to account for him.
“Clay is a featured rusher in our defense and as many times as we can possibly create targeting problems or identifying issues for the offense, that’s all part of it,” McCarthy said.
Where the changes leave veteran Brady Poppinga in the pecking order at outside linebacker isn’t clear. Poppinga had been filling in for Jones on the No. 1 units as he continues working to regain the pass-rushing skills he possessed in college at BYU, where he recorded 20 sacks.
Poppinga said he’s encouraged with his progress so far as a 3-4 outside ‘backer but acknowledged he’s not where he needs to be yet. Moving Chillar outside gives the defense another pass-rush option and a way to perhaps use Chillar’s multiple talents on more snaps.
As for adding Bishop to the nickel package, the fourth-year pro and special teams leader has been looking for any opportunity to get on the field on defense, and he’s off to a strong start in camp as well.
For the past couple of years, the Packers have felt their depth at inside linebacker was a luxury, with both Chillar and Bishop ready and available behind Barnett and A.J. Hawk, who plays primarily in base. Perhaps the time has come to see if that luxury has a greater payoff.
“It’s definitely an intriguing idea,” said Barnett of a nickel linebacker quartet of himself, Bishop, Chillar and Matthews. “We can do some great things, but we have to see first. This is the first day running that, and we’ll see how it fares.”