GREEN BAY, Wis. -- After watching their defense fritter away too many leads last season, the Green Bay Packers are knee-deep in a major transition.
Gone are former defensive coordinator Bob Sanders and most of his staff, along with the team's long-standing 4-3 defensive alignment. With new defensive coordinator Dom Capers come new coaches -- and, most significantly, a new 3-4 scheme.
It's a major change for Packers defensive players, many of whom have played their entire careers in the 4-3. But with a mandatory minicamp coming up next week, Packers coach Mike McCarthy is pleased with the progress Capers and his coaches are making.
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"I feel very good about what we have accomplished to this point," McCarthy said. "Defensively, Dom has been able to get his whole package in, which is very refreshing. I think it's a compliment to both the coaches and players. If they did not spend the extra one-on-one time in April, we would not be in this position today."
While recent voluntary organized team activity (OTA) practice sessions have given Capers the chance to teach his defense to players in a group setting, McCarthy said those practices alone would not have been enough time to get Packers players comfortable with the new scheme.
For that, McCarthy credits players for spending time in Green Bay even before OTAs began, giving Capers and position coaches more time for individual instruction.
"It's really the commitment of the one-on-one time," McCarthy said. "To just sit here and think that you can install a defense with the volume of our new scheme just throughout the OTA practices is really foolish. It's the commitment from the players being here since March, and once again, I think we are in very good shape."
One player not present for much of the offseason program was Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins, who showed up for Wednesday's voluntary practice but has otherwise been absent for personal reasons. Collins also is believed to be unhappy with his contract.
Collins mostly watched during the "jog-through" portion of Wednesday's practice before leaving to work out with a group of players who are rehabilitating injuries. McCarthy said Collins wasn't injured, but the team is bringing him along slowly because he hasn't been present for practices.
"He obviously hasn't been here, so we'll see how the rehab workout went," McCarthy said. "I have not had a chance to visit with the trainers and see where Nick is."
Collins did not speak to reporters in the locker room after practice.
The transition has been tough even for players who have been around this offseason.
Aaron Kampman might be the player most affected by the switch, because he has to switch from a pass rushing defensive end to an outside linebacker who specializes in rushing the passer but also has pass coverage responsibilities. Kampman has spent the offseason trying to evade questions about his comfort level in the new scheme.
Others have said they like it, including inside linebacker A.J. Hawk and rookie outside linebacker Clay Matthews.
"I fit in real well," said Matthews, a first-round pick out of Southern California. "I think my skills are fit for a 3-4. So I'm very fortunate to be a part of this team and the new defense that's being implemented. I'm looking forward to understanding the defense that much better and making some plays."
Veteran linebacker Brady Poppinga acknowledges that the transition to a 3-4 is challenging, but he's trying to make the most of it.
"I'm enjoying myself very thoroughly," Poppinga said. "It's a process. When I came in here, I was a malleable piece of clay four years ago. Now, I'm breaking that clay pottery down -- boom! -- to build it back up. So it's a process. But I think I'm taking the necessary steps, and I'm enjoying the moment."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press