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 [email protected].
Photo: Packers linebacker Carl Bradford by Brian Carriveau.
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