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Packers’ Jeff Hafley: Green Bay is Mecca of the football world to me

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Matt LaFleur made a hire that won the press conference today. Now the defensive coordinator needs to win games in the fall.

New Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley was introduced to the local media on Thursday for the first time by head coach Matt LaFleur, who claimed that Hafley’s defense should fit the mold of a “fast and physical” unit. Drink if you’ve heard that one before. Football has been around since 1869 and no one has ever said they want a slow and weak defense.

Despite the cliches, though, Hafley’s first presser in Green Bay will likely win over some of the more hesitant members of the fan base, as he was impressive on the microphone. Off the bat, he said that one reason why he left his position as Boston College’s head coach to become the Packers’ defensive coordinator was because Green Bay “is like the Mecca of the football world to me.”

Another reason is all of the changes he’s seen in college football since he last coached at the NFL level, which he called a “storm.” Between NIL and the transfer portal, which combined create a climate of constant re-recruiting of talent on your own roster, Hafley stated that he has already been able to watch more film in a week-and-a-half in Green Bay than he was able to in four months as the head coach at Boston College. In his own words, he compared himself to a kid in a candy store and said that his mind is “refreshing” and “clear.”

On the schematic front, he didn’t shy away from the comparisons to the single-high coaching tree that has sprouted roots in San Francisco, Houston and with the New York Jets. LaFleur even mentioned that he is coming off of a deep study of Houston’s defense.

According to Hafley, his middle-of-the-field free safety, which he stated he calls a “post safety,” will need to communicate well and have good ball skills. At the moment, that position is very thin, as the Packers’ most-played safety under contract is 2023 draft pick Anthony Johnson Jr. — who played just 27 percent of the team’s total defensive snaps last season.

Hafley and LaFleur also both mentioned that the team will have more “vision-based” coverages moving forward. If you’re wondering what that means, think of spot-drop zones where deep routes are not being played like man-to-man coverage if a receiver runs through a defender’s assignment. The best example of this would be in Cover 3, where cornerbacks play deep coverage near the sidelines and the “post safety” plays the middle of the field. If pair of receivers ran straight down the field, the cornerback would be expected to split the difference between the two pass-catchers and break on whichever route was targeted once he sees the quarterback load up for a pass. This is different than Joe Barry’s zone match system, where defenders in deep zones were expected to take on a route-runner after a certain depth.

As far as his staff goes, Hafley stated that he’s been trying to hire new linebackers coach/run game coordinator Anthony Campanile since Campanile was a high school coordinator. Per Hafley, Campanile is a “star” in the business.

Not only did Hafley try to get Campanile on as a graduate assistant at his stops at Pittsburgh and Rutgers, which Campanile successfully landed the year that Hafley left for the NFL in 2012, but Hafley apparently tried to hire Campanile at both Ohio State and Boston College. Hafley stated that he “recruited him a lot better” this time around. Campanile interviewed as a defensive coordinator prospect for both the Miami Dolphins and New York Giants during the 2024 offseason.

The other outside hire whom Hafley spoke on was Derrick Ansley, who also interviewed with the Giants this offseason. Ansley was the Los Angeles Chargers’ defensive coordinator last season, a position that was a non-play-calling position until head coach Brandon Staley was fired mid-season. According to Hafley, Ansley brings a different perspective to the staff, as Hafley has coached both the single-high and Rex Ryan style defenses, but not the quarters-based system.

That is a role that could be significant, as shown by the 2023 Denver Broncos. Christian Parker, a former Packers coach, was the decoder ring for Vance Joseph in Denver as the team transitioned out of a quarters-based system last year. Early on, the Broncos struggled, but with Parkers’ help, Denver rallied to one of the better second-half defenses in the NFL last year.

If you’d like to listen to both press conferences, you can find them linked below:

This will likely be LaFleur’s only major press conference ahead of the NFL Draft, as the combined schedule does not include a LaFleur appearance. On Tuesday morning, though, general manager Brian Gutekunst will be speaking in Indianapolis.

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