Green Bay Packers fans are still trying to wrap their heads around the hiring of Joe Barry. Many believe that Barry is a “retread” and that head coach Matt LaFleur could have done better in finding Mike Pettine’s replacement. Barry has been a defensive coordinator two different times during his career. Once with the Detroit Lions (2007-2008) and the other with the Washington Football Team (2015-2016). Both tenures can be considered a failure. However, things could be different this time around. The first factor, with failing two times, Barry very well could have learned from his mistakes. The other, the talent on the Green Bay Packers defense is something Joe Barry hasn’t had when being a defensive coordinator.
Joe Barry Will Be Working With A Plethora of Talent on the Green Bay Packers Defense
One of the biggest reasons that Mike Pettine is no longer in charge of the Packers defense is because he did less with more. The Packers defense finished 2020 with stats that weren’t awful. They finished seventh passing yards allowed, 14th in rushing yards allowed, 13th in points allowed, and ninth in total defense.
If you were to just look at the stats, you would be surprised that the Packers didn’t renew Pettine’s contract. However, when you take a look at the personnel the Packers defense has, those numbers were underwhelming.
During the time that Joe Barry was in charge of the Lions and Washington’s defense, he never had this type of talent. General manager Brian Gutekunst and his staff have provided the Packers with the talent needed to win in the NFL. Today, we take a look at what Joe Barry will be working with when he begins his first season as the man in charge of the Packers defense.
Strong Secondary Group Led by a Strong Leader
Joe Barry isn’t just inheriting a strong Packers secondary, but he will also be working with a standout secondary coach.
Jerry Gray just completed his first season as the person in charge of the Packers defensive secondary. He helped solidify cornerback Jaire Alexander as one of the top cover cornerbacks in the NFL. Alexander was already uber-talented before Gray’s arrival. But the work Alexander did with Gray, has helped him be in the argument as the top cover cornerback in the NFL.
Along with Alexander, Barry will have the benefit of working with a solid safety duo. Adrian Amos is the veteran leader of the Packers defense, not just the secondary, but the whole defense. His ability to do all the little things has freed up other players to make plays. One player that benefitted from Amos’s play is Darnell Savage Jr..
Savage Jr. not only benefitted by playing next to Amos, but he was the biggest benefactor of LaFleur hiring Gray. In his second NFL season, Savage Jr. picked off four passes and also registered his first career sack. It will be up to Joe Barry to make sure to put Savage Jr. in a position to make even more plays in 2021.
Things to Watch in the Packers Secondary in 2021
One thing to watch is how the veteran Gray works with Barry. It was reported that Gray interviewed for the position that LaFleur gave to Barry. Gray is a professional, so it is difficult to imagine that he will hold any animosity towards Barry. But still, it might be an awkward situation.
Alexander, Amos, and Savage Jr. are a very strong trio. But it appears that the free agent to be Kevin King will not return in 2021. With King possibly departing, the Packers will need to find a starter opposite of Alexander. Josh Jackson, a former second-round pick, will be a candidate to replace King. However, he has been unimpressive in his first three seasons. If Gutekunst doesn’t bring in help through free agency or the draft, it will be up to Gray and Barry to get Jackson to play up to his potential.
A Disruptive Pass Rush
The Packers pass rush is led by their group of outside linebackers. It has been reported that Joe Barry will run a 3-4 defense that is similar to the one that Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio runs.
That style of defense should benefit outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith. Smith is the leader of the Packers pass rush. In his two seasons as a Packer, Smith has posted 26 sacks. With the ability that Smith possesses, the Packers should still be a very good pass-rushing team in 2021, if Barry does things correctly.
Joining Smith is Rashan Gary, who just completed his second professional season. The uber-talented Gary is just starting to develop into the player the Packers envisioned when they selected him in the first round of the 2019 NFL draft. With Smith already one of the top pass rushers in the NFL, and Gary just starting to become an explosive pass rusher, Barry will have a lot of talent to work with.
The Forgotten Outside Linebacker
Preston Smith is the forgotten pass rusher of the Packers defense. In 2019, Smith posted 12 sacks and was the “Robin” to Za’Darius Smith’s “Batman”. But last season, his production dropped. He posted just four sacks and his play was uneven. Many have wondered if Smith might be a salary cap casualty this off-season. However, pass rushers are hard to come by in the NFL. Smith still has some tread on the tires and could still contribute. Plus, Smith has a history with Joe Barry.
Smith played his first two NFL seasons with Washington, the same two seasons that Joe Barry was Washington’s defensive coordinator. In those two seasons, Smith posted a total of 12.5 sacks. Barry knows what Smith is capable of. If he can get back to where he played in 2019, he could be a very nice compliment to Za’Darius Smith and Gary.
Potential from the Interior of the Defensive Line
Kenny Clark is one of the top young interior pass rushers in the NFL. Clark has posted 18 1/2 sacks in his five seasons with the Packers. When he is healthy, there isn’t a better interior defensive lineman. It will be interesting to see how Barry utilizes Clark. Clark has the ability to not only play over the center but also as a standard defensive tackle. If Barry shows more creativity than Pettine, he might be able to get more out of Clark.
Kingsley Keke played in 15 games for the Packers, starting nine of them, before he was lost to a concussion. In just part-time duty during those 15 games, he still posted four sacks. He showed potential as an inside pass rusher. Entering his third season, it is time to get Keke more time and see what he is capable of doing on a full-time basis. Pettine was hesitant to use Keke more. Barry will need to show he is more willing to play Keke.
Joe Barry will have two solid interior defensive linemen in Clark and Keke, but the other spot will need some help. Dean Lowry hasn’t lived up to the contract extension he signed before 2019. It is highly likely that he won’t return in 2021, saving the Packers money. It will be up to Gutekunst to find a player to help out Clark and Keke.
Joe Barry and his Ability to Coach the Packers Inside Linebackers
Joe Barry brings a background in coaching linebackers, especially inside linebackers. This is the position that will show how good of a hire Barry actually was.
He has a reputation for developing unknown linebackers. He was given a lot of credit for developing Cory Littleton while he was with the Los Angeles Rams when Barry was the linebackers coach. Earned or not, Barry has a reputation for developing unknown linebackers.
That is what Barry should expect with the Packers, working with little known inside linebackers. The Packers have shown that they don’t value the inside linebacker position, which might be why the Packers have struggled on defense in recent history. As much as the Packers need a young playmaking inside linebacker it just doesn’t seem like they are willing to spend to do so. With that said, don’t expect the Packers to take a player, such as Tulsa’s Zaven Collins, in the first round.
Packers Inside Linebacker Group
Instead, Barry, the “linebacker whisperer”, will need to get the most out of what the Packers currently have on their roster. Krys Barnes, who was an undrafted free agent for the Packers in 2020, surprised many by his play. Many believe Barnes is the answer at inside linebacker. However, there was a reason that he went undrafted. While he is a good story and has shown he can play at this level, he still has a long way to go to be a difference-maker on the Packers defense. Barnes will be a player that will show how good of a linebacker coach Barry truly is, if he can get more out of the undrafted free agent.
While Barnes might not be the playmaker most fans envision, there is a prospect that could benefit from Barry’s background. Kamal Martin, in small doses, showed that he could be the type of standout linebacker that could be a difference-maker in the Packers defense. He has great length and athletic ability. He also has shown he isn’t afraid to make a big hit when called upon.
While Barnes is a grinder, Martin is the one that has more upside. If the Packers aren’t going to spend to upgrade the position, they are going to need one of their current inside linebackers to develop into a playmaker. Martin has that ability, it will be up to Barry to get him to reach that potential.
The Pieces are in Place For Joe Barry, Packers
Until 2021 kicks off, nobody will know how good of a hire Joe Barry is. But one thing is for sure, the pieces are in place for the Packers to have a very solid defense.
LaFleur is taking a big chance on hiring Joe Barry. Barry wasn’t their first choice, and there could be a reason for that. Still, he is the man that LaFleur is depending on to make sure the Packers defense plays at a championship level. The Packers have given Barry the talent to succeed, it will be his job to make sure it happens.
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