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Thornton, Bradford Selections Address Packers' Effort and Hustle Issues

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Thornton, Bradford Selections Address Packers' Effort and Hustle Issues

The date was Oct. 13, 2012. Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote the following:

Other than Clay Matthews, general manager Ted Thompson has taken too many early-round chances on defensive players that took downs off in college and continue to take them off now.

At the same time, coach Mike McCarthy has been unable to foster an environment in which supreme effort is not only demanded but is routinely given.

Effort has nothing to do with ability. But, in the emotional world of playing defense in the National Football League, effort can compensate for limitations in talent and flaws in technique.

In the intervening season and a half, little has changed in Green Bay.

The Packers defense actully went backwards, ranking 11th in the NFL in total defense in 2012, giving up an average of 336.8 yards per game to allowing an average of 372.2 in 2013, ranking 25th in the league.

Apart from Clay Matthews, who plays like his hair is on fire, there's seemingly few players that give 110 percent on every play and even fewer that have the talent to match Matthews.

Unfortunately for the Packers, they've also gotten decreasingly little production from their star linebacker due to injuries, forcing him to miss four full games in 2012 and six in 2013 (including playoffs).

General manager Ted Thompson, however, seems to have addressed the effort, hustle and motor issues plaguing the Packers defense in the 2014 through the selections of defensive lineman Khyri Thornton and outside linebacker Carl Bradford respectively in the third and fourth round of the recently completed NFL Draft.

Defensive Lineman Khyri Thornton

In taking Thornton, the Packers hope they've found a player that was largely overlooked by most draft analysts.

One of the first things that stands out about Thornton is his hustle, which comes as all the more impressive considering he played for a Southern Mississippi football team that lost its rudder ever since Coach Larry Fedora left for the same job at North Carolina.

In the past two seasons, Southern Mississippi has won a total of one football game after going 34-19 under Fedora the four previous seasons.

"I think the biggest thing is when you watch the guy on a (1-23 team) is his competitiveness throughout those games," said Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac. "Sometimes it's hard when you're losing all the time to keep your spirits going, and he didn't have a problem like that."

Evidence of Thornton's talent came in Southern Mississippi's meeting against SEC opponent Arkansas this past season, which the defensive lineman considers his best game.

"We came in there, everybody expected us to lose by 50 points," said Thornton. "The SEC team, all the hype around them, and people thought we were just going to get ran over. That Saturday they only scored seven points a quarter and they ran the ball 50 times that game."

In their matchup, Thornton frequently lined up across from Arkansas center Travis Swanson, a third round draft choice of the Detroit Lions, including the first play of the game, when Thornton set the tone for what would be a don't-quit attitude the entire afternoon.

Thornton penetrates into the offensive backfield past the running back but doesn't quit, hustling to the football and makes a two-yard tackle for a loss.

What the Packer got in Thornton is a player that has a violent hand punch to keep offensive lineman away from him and a player with good lateral agility to pursue and flow to the action.

Quite frequently, Thornton is the first player off the snap, getting more penetration than any of his teammates.

Outside Linebacker Carl Bradford

Despite the lack of ideal length at 6' 1" and 250 lbs., the Packers found a Tasmanian devil of a football player when they took Bradford.

"Carl is a really good athlete, really smooth, fluid athlete," said Packers director of college scouting Brian Gutekunst. "He's got a lot of twitch. He's obviously had a lot of success as a pass rusher. He's got relentless play."

Bradford's best asset might be his quickness and explosive first step off the line of scrimmage, such as when he came up with a strip-sack in a 2013 meeting against Washigton State.

But Bradord is more than just a one-dimensional rusher can bull rush with power, counter with a 'Hump' move, stunt and even apply pressure as an interior blitzer.

Change of direction is also a strength of Bradford's. In the Washington State game, he starts off by rushing the passer and then peels off to cover the running back releasing out of the backfield to help force an incompletion.

Thornton and Bradford alone won't fix the Packers defense, but Thompson has at least taken a proactive approach to acquiring players that have a fire in their belly and are intrinsically motivated.

Combined with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the secondary, this infusion of talented, young players should make the defense a better, ballhawking and bee-linging unit in 2014.

Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email carriveau@uwalumni.com.

Photo: Packers linebacker Carl Bradford by Brian Carriveau.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (8) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

RC Packer Fan's picture

The more I watch both Bradford and Thornton play the more I like.

Thornton really does have a quick first step, and seems to be really good at penetrating. I'm not going to expect him to come in and set the world on fire (typically it takes a year or 2 for DT's to learn how to play in the NFL), but I think he can come in contribute right away in a rotation.

The more I watch Bradford, the more he reminds me of James Harrison. I'm not saying he will be Harrison or anything, just that his body size/shape is similar and I see similar traits in him.

I do like what I have seen from both players, and I think both will contribute early.

lukemills's picture

agreed. I'm liking them more each time I read an article or see clips of them playing. It seems like they're full of piss and vinegar and that's something this defense has missed since Bishop and Woodson left. Can't wait to see how much better this defense is this season. They don't have to be the top defense in the league for us to have a very good season. We just need them to get into top 15ish for us to have a good chance in every game. Just give A Rod a chance. gopackgo

White92's picture

That peel off Bradford did was impressive.

Thornton and Datone could form a real good team on the line.

ballark's picture

I would have added Hawk and Daniels alongside Clay as the best examples of fire/effort.

Ibleedgreenmore's picture

Not sure how good they will be but from the looks of it they have fire in the tank.

COW's picture

I like both these guys.

Where did the phrase "playing like his hair is on fire" come from?

If my hair was on fire the last thing I'd be worried about is playing football.

4thand1's picture

You still suck

Jeff Hayes's picture

Bradford is going to be our next Matthews the kid is a beast

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