Campanile to Bring Intensity and Aggression Back to Linebackers

Linebackers coach's fiery nature to hopefully re-shape the position group

Growing up, I learned much about Lombardi's Packers from my Dad, Grandpa, and Uncles. My Dad's favorite player growing up was none other than linebacker, Ray Nitschke. He told me about Nitschke's mean, fiery, and aggressive nature on the field. He taught me how Nitschke would knock the daylights out of an opposing player whenever he had the chance. As a result, I viewed the linebacker position as the "punishers," they were the guys that were supposed to make the ball carrier wish they weren't even on the field. In my lifetime though, the Packers have had a few good linebackers, but only a small handful would I place in the "fiery and aggressive" category. 

The first one that comes to mind that I'd put in that column is Clay Matthews III. During the peak of his career, Matthews was a force to be reckoned with, relentlessly trying to get to the Quarterback on every single down. After Clay, there have been a few punishing and aggressive linebackers, Wayne Simmons, Nick Barnett, and Desmond Bishop all come to mind from the last 30 years, but I wouldn't quite put them over the top. However, when I look at the Packers' current crop of linebackers, I see two that could come over the top, and they now have the coach to help them get there. 

When I first read about the hiring of Anthony Campanile as the Packers' linebackers coach and run game coordinator, the main thing that stuck out to me, was his intensity. As I mentioned before, I view the linebacker position as the "punishers." To fit that punisher mold, you have to be intense, aggressive, and hard-hitting, Campanile said in a past speech, "Don't stop throwing punches, don't stop attacking the ball, don't stop finishing blocks, and let's see what happens." Of the four linebackers to wear a Packers jersey previously mentioned from the last 30 years, 3/4 of them won Super Bowls, One of the similarities between these three is that they had a fiery and intense defensive coach in their corner. Wayne Simmons had Fritz Shurmur, while Clay Matthews and Desmond Bishop had Kevin Green. 

The Packers' two promising young linebackers, Quay Walker and Edgerrin Cooper have a lot of natural talent and athleticism. And with the hiring of Anthony Campanile, they now have a fiery and intense defensive coach of their own to hopefully take them over the top.

Making Walker and Cooper the Best in the League

An emphasis of new defensive coordinator, Jeff Hafley's system, is putting players in a position to succeed, without them having to think about it. That means almost exactly as it sounds. The less they have to think about, the better. That's not to say Hafley will be running a "defense for dummies" but more of a defense where adjustments on the fly won't be needed as often. Defensive players will have assignments that cater to their strengths and they won't be placed in a position where a pass rusher is asked to cover a top receiver as was a common occurrence with the Packers' past regime. Versatility will be welcome, but with the new system, when a player lines up, they know what their assignment is, and they know that they can succeed at it with minimal adjustment. 

This should bode well for Quay Walker and Edgerrin Cooper. Both players are very athletic running sideline to sideline. They both are capable of blowing up plays in the backfield as well as tracking any ball carrier and being the first to get there. Letting them focus on their assignment and not having to worry about something else so that they can use that athleticism, will help them focus on stopping the play or even creating a turnover. 

When you give a skilled player a little bit of lee-way as to what they can do, their feeling of trust and inclusion will skyrocket. That is when teaching aggression will come in handy as now the player is more able to attack the play.

Anthony Campanile will bring the fire and the aggression back into Walker and Cooper's game.  Imagine #7 and #56 leading the league as the best linebacker tandem. That would greatly turn around the woes that have plagued the Packers' defense. Early on in OTA's, it was widely noted that Campanile is very involved and occasionally grabs the tackle dummies or blockers to get physically involved and ingrain that intensity in his players' heads.  It's been some time since the Packers have had a punishing defense, with Hafley and Campanile at the helm though, those days could be back. 

 

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Greg Meinholz is a lifelong devoted Packer fan. A contributor to CheeseheadTV as well as PackersTalk. Follow him on Twitter @gmeinholz for Packers commentary, random humor, beer endorsements, and occasional Star Wars and Marvel ramblings.

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Comments (37)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
Rory P Scrotem's picture

July 07, 2024 at 07:08 am

The absolute beauty of the Lombardi years was watching the defense. I would love to have the 2024 edition of the Packers listed in that same category. I think given the players that have been put in place, it's entirely possible.
GPG

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LambeauPlain's picture

July 07, 2024 at 07:50 am

The late Kevin Greene is who I associate with the intensity and energy of Campanile...another fire breather.

Kevin Greene left the Packers abruptly before the 2014 season (to coach his son's HS team's LBs?) and not much was said except I read he had issues with the inside LB coach, Winston Moss...who was also Assistant HC for McCarthy for some reason. I don't think the players liked him much, but MM sure did. (Bishop was coached by Moss, not Greene. Moss would rarely play Bishop until Barnett got hurt and had to.)

I love watching ILB play and it has been too often frustrating watching the Packers play the position. This has been mostly due to how they were coached. Recently, Barry Ball too often had Walker chasing 4.4 WRs through the middle zone. Drove me crazy.

New day! Walker has the skills in Hafley's vision...and Campanile should enjoy coaching him up along with Cooper. Don't sleep on McDuffie, either. He's hard hitting and disciplined and familiar with Hafley.

This could be one of the most prolific, talked about Packer LB corps in years.

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Ferrari-Driver's picture

July 07, 2024 at 10:01 am

During the years I was in Green Bay, I met a number of Packer players, but really only knew two of them and they were Bart Starr and the other was Ray Nitschke who you mentioned in your article.

I spoke with Ray a few times and he and I worked together at an event where we spent time together. He was pretty fiery before he got married and seemed to settle down significantly after. I think if you were to see him in a setting with perhaps 25 or fewer people, you may come away with the impression that he is a good old fun loving guy with an outgoing personality.

Bart Starr was just a super gentleman and very bright. He was polite and friendly in spite of the personal fame. If you had ever been able to sit and just chat with Bart for 10 or 20 minutes, you would have to come away impressed.

I was able to meet and get to know these two men because of my dad and while I was younger and somewhat in awe during the times I spent with them, I was immensely impressed with their off the field demeanor and how they interacted with me who at the time was not distinguished in any fashion. Of course, I am now old and still hold fond memories of those two gentlemen.

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HawkPacker's picture

July 07, 2024 at 10:12 am

FD, you are extremely lucky to have known both of these guys personally. I am impressed and envious!

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jont's picture

July 07, 2024 at 11:29 am

I meet Ray a couple times as well, not as in depth as your experience, but I can second your impression. He was simply a very nice guy-- pleasant, courteous, and even a bit modest. The kind of guy you want as a next door neighbor.

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dobber's picture

July 07, 2024 at 11:36 am

There was a time when players were more everyday guys and mingled with the locals. With the rise of HS all-star games, high-level recruitment, NIL, and big-time college TV contracts, these guys are stars before they know how to deal with it.

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WestCoastPackerBacker's picture

July 08, 2024 at 04:14 pm

Of course in those days many or most of the players didn't live off just their NFL salary; they had off season jobs as well. So, yes, they were much more everyday. They also were not in the era of social media and info and photos of their every move available to fans.

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Starrbrite's picture

July 07, 2024 at 09:06 pm

Excellent F-D. I attended a Packer Fantasy Camp several years ago and spoke with both players at length. Your character description is very much my viewpoint of them.
At one point during the camp, a young male local tv reporter asked if he could record Nitschke tackling him for the local evening sports news. The reporter apparently believed Nitschke would make a patty-cake tackle for a couple of giggles. The reporter wore a Packer helmet and put a football in his hands. When he ran at Nitschke, Nitschke hit him like he was tackling Jim Brown. The reporter was flipped in the air like a dolphin at Sea World and landed on his head behind Nitschke; honestly I thought he broke his neck. He got up dazed and looking out the helmet ear hole. It was clear to me, Ray Nitschke was making a point.
Go Packers!!!

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fireball's picture

July 07, 2024 at 10:29 am

What's a worthwhile trade for Kenny Clark? He will turn 29 in October. . . and is probably asking for a huge contract.

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jont's picture

July 07, 2024 at 11:32 am

Tough room. Down votes for asking a question.

FWIW, I don't think they should trade him. It looks like we'll have a pretty solid DL; let's not mess it up.

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Leatherhead's picture

July 07, 2024 at 12:34 pm

He's an above average DT. Who are you going to trade him for? A draft pick for a potential guy who might be something? A right guard? A superduper WR?

Looking at our team, if I could trade Kenny Clark for anybody, who would improve the team the most this year? I can't really think of anybody off the top of my head. We don't need a QB, or a WR, or a RB. Ray Lewis is retired. So is Woodson.

Never say never, but I can't really imagine how trading KennyClark at this point improves the team this year.

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dobber's picture

July 07, 2024 at 01:07 pm

...add to this that player-for-player trades that involve big contracts--especially on both parties--are relatively rare.

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LeotisHarris's picture

July 07, 2024 at 04:19 pm

Oh, well, I suppose you're going to waltz right past Sonny Jurgensen for Norm Snead like it didn't even happen *just* because a couple of DBs were included, right? You are so dead to me, dobber!

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dobber's picture

July 07, 2024 at 08:08 pm

Maybe not waltz...but I can polka!

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WestCoastPackerBacker's picture

July 08, 2024 at 04:17 pm

There's got to be a reason for a trade other than age and contract. If they had another cheaper Kenny Clark type player waiting to get snaps, then maybe this would be worth looking at. GB is in a window right now with a ton of cheap players and they don't need to get rid of their real talent during this period that they have a chance to win a Title. The defense finally has a chance to be good with new coaching and dumping known talent for a question mark isn't the right move now.

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BA4Pack's picture

July 09, 2024 at 07:58 am

Next year is a loaded DT draft class.
Can the Pack afford Clark after signing JLove.
We will see.

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ricky's picture

July 07, 2024 at 10:39 am

If the linebackers and the defensive linemen can stop the run, and if they can also put pressure on the QB, depending on the offense, that alone would be a big improvement. Punishing tackles are fine, but tackling a guy and getting him to the ground without him dragging the defender another few yards would be more than acceptable. Challenge everything, from short passes to long bombs. And for goodness sake, no more playing ten yards off a WR when it's third and four.

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dobber's picture

July 07, 2024 at 11:31 am

Your comment hits the core, Ricky.

Play fast, be aggressive, be where you're supposed to be, play to half a step past the whistle. Quay Walker was better in 2024, but we already know he can be a bit of a hothead. Be focused on winning matchups and plays, but not necessarily on getting in your licks. The day of those players who are "punishers" has mostly been legislated out of football. The way to punish offenses now is to demoralize them by denying them what they want to do and blowing up plays before offenses get a chance to really execute them.

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Ferrari-Driver's picture

July 07, 2024 at 03:55 pm

dobber, I agree with your comment about punishers being legislated out of today's football.

Among the hardest hitters I recall was Jack Tatum who spent a large portion of his career with the Raiders. You may recall the injury that wide receiver Darryl Stingley received after being hit by Tatum which resulted in Stingley spending the remainder of this life as a quadraplegic. Also the hit that Tatum made on the Vikings wide receiver, Sammy White, during a Super Bowl game is often referred to as the hardest hit made during any Super Bowl game.

We used to have a Safety years ago named Chuck Cecil who would often launch in the air and lead with his helmet when making a tackle. He also had a reputation as a hard hitting safety whose tackles in today's game would likely result in fines and/or suspension.

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Grandfathered's picture

July 07, 2024 at 05:20 pm

Funny you mention Chuck Cecil. His nickname was "scud" missile. I seem to remember he gave himself a concussion when he missed a head first dive. No way he could play today.

He was a defensive assistant and then coordinator for the Titans when he held up his middle finger on television and was fined and later fired. He is now is the University of Arizona defensive backs coach.

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Ferrari-Driver's picture

July 07, 2024 at 07:10 pm

Your are correct and he made more than a single air launched missile that missed the target entirely. He also became infamous for having his helmet cut into his nose area resulting in blood running down his face. However, I do believe he was a much more decent person than Jack Tatum. For years Darryl Stingley said that Tatum never visited him nor said he was sorry for the crippling hit he made.

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HawkPacker's picture

July 07, 2024 at 10:06 pm

If that is the case them Jack Tatum sucks!

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Leatherhead's picture

July 07, 2024 at 07:51 pm

Once Upon A Time, a game called football was played.

They tackled people with the Clothesline. They were encouraged to smash the QB in the face after the play, on the follow through. You could crackback block. You could block below the waist on punts and kicks. Head slaps were legal. Hands to the face was legal. There was no penalty for helmet-to-helmet. You could make contact with WRs all over the field, before the ball was thrown. Since the ground could cause a fumble, you slammed into the pile.

A lot has changed in my lifetime. You don't need maulers and muggers on the defense, you need people who can get people on the ground, legally. You know what's worse than an 8 yard gain? An 8 yard gain + 15 yard penalty. One short play takes you from the 25 to midfield.

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Ferrari-Driver's picture

July 08, 2024 at 12:58 pm

As Bob Hope used to say "Thanks for the memories".

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mnbadger's picture

July 07, 2024 at 11:03 am

the potential for an aggressive defense is there.
I'm tempering my expectations yet so excited to perhaps see an aggressive tone-setting defense that creates havoc.
I can't wait to wipe the memories of jbarry ball clean from my pallet.
GPG!

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porupack's picture

July 07, 2024 at 12:04 pm

Thanks for article. While I read a lot about how Hafley is installing an aggressive and simplified defense, and how everyone seems excited, I have to ask the basic questions; what exactly makes CHTV writers convinced something is going to be aggressive and simplified assignments such as "they can just fly to the ball" and/or "players can just focus on their assignment and not worry about other things". Seems like a lot of ear-candy. What evidence are CHTV writiers finding that there is game-changing quality to new system that coaches are serving up to the public. Seems like pre-season cotton candy and we're all getting over excited. Not being critical, but just wanting a little more inclusion and/or summary about what exactly is different. Just the 4-3 alignment? Ok. What else?

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GregC's picture

July 07, 2024 at 04:04 pm

Those are good questions. One thing I've read, at least in regards to the defensive line, is that in the Hafley defense the players will attack a specific gap between the blockers instead of reading what the blockers are trying to do and then deciding which gap to attack, as they did in Barry's defense. So the defensive linemen are more the aggressors in the Hafley defense, which sounds good, although I wonder if this will make them more predictable and thus more easy to exploit.

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Turophile's picture

July 08, 2024 at 05:30 am

Simplified means more easily diagnosed. More aggressive usually means less disciplined.

Balance is the answer. Aggressive where you need to be, disciplined when its required, complexity sometimes to fool an offense mixed with enough simplicity to allow players to trigger quickly.

Barry was too passive overall. A more attacking scheme is just fine if the overall scheme is in balance. Too aggressive and you will get gashed for big plays, while not aggressive enough and you will be nickel and dimed to death.

Forget the memes, the trigger words like "aggressive hard-nosed football", "attacking scheme", and the like. Its all about balance.

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Qoojo's picture

July 07, 2024 at 12:35 pm

I thought one of the most criminal things about the previous GB defenses is that it turned defenders into passive bored players. Watching other teams over the years or even the GB defense from 94-96, I have thought that the best defenses are aggressive and mean by nature. The hunters. GB defenses have turned naturally aggressive players into prey and a bunch of nice guys. Not to mention spectators that watch walker solo tackle.

Heck, just look at the MN game where players said FU to Barry and played with attitude and aggression. Alexander mocking the stupid little MN WR dance.

No idea if Hafley will actually turn this around or not. Waiting on actual on field product verse the media reports.

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Leatherhead's picture

July 07, 2024 at 08:01 pm

I went and looked at that MN game.

The Offense monopolized the ball and Minnesota only got to run 48 plays. Their QB was the famous Nick Mullens. He has a career passer rating of 88.1. Their main rusher was Ty Chandler, They lost six of their last seven, including the one to us. We played the entire game with a lead against an inept offense that scored 91 points in their last 6 games.

I'd say a better example is Dallas, the league's best offense, that we stomped into the turf in the first half. Did the defense look passive and bored?

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GregC's picture

July 07, 2024 at 08:52 pm

Not sure what game you're talking about. Alexander did not play in that win against the Vikings last season. He was suspended for that game.

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Qoojo's picture

July 07, 2024 at 09:24 pm

yea, it was previous season.

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splitpea1's picture

July 07, 2024 at 12:37 pm

The other half of this is excelling in pass coverage. Quay has to hang on to game-changing interceptions when they come his way, and as for Cooper, hopefully he can duplicate his elite coverage skills at the NFL level. Lambert (remember his big INT in Super Bowl 14?) and Ham had 66 INTs between them in their careers, so if we can turn our guys into THOSE guys, we'll be good to go (okay, this is probably a bit of a stretch, but why not shoot for the stars?).

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LeotisHarris's picture

July 07, 2024 at 04:05 pm

You can go ahead and put Wayne Simmons "over the top." Clay had to be accounted for, sure, but he wasn't a guy opponents worried might end their careers. Barnett and Bishop had some nice seasons, and made athletic plays. Simmons had a palpable level of menace that created fear and earned respect. It wasn't Bill Romanowski-level dirty play that Simmons brought, it was old-school football. That's why he was Shurmur's favorite.

I hope the fiery profanity-heavy new guy can teach as well as he can spout. If the volume is always at 11, and the needle buried at 120, carbon based units will acclimate and it all blurs together in a big ho hum.

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Oppy's picture

July 07, 2024 at 08:00 pm

Too often fans put more stock into presentation than results.

Does a coach have disciplined, effective, and well-trained players on the field who are ready to do the job?
Does the player make the play?

I don't care if I don't know who the coach is, he sips tea and says please and thank you and never raises his voice. I don't care if nobody on the opposing offense is scared of the linebacker. So long as the position group knows their assignments, have the technique and skill required to play the position in the scheme, and the players execute and make the plays- that's all that matters to me. Results.

Everything else is just window dressing.

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BubbaOne's picture

July 07, 2024 at 10:54 pm

Greg,
It was pointed out I was using "that" too often in my writings. Leaving it out has made my communication cleaner and sharper. When I see it in my communication et al I call it "that fat". I'm no English prof; just paying the lesson learned forward.

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Mike Rossmeier's picture

July 08, 2024 at 04:13 pm

I hope Hafley's scheme works as planned, but I'll reserve judgment. When DL are trying to juke or go around OL instead of taking them head-on, it gives the OL an angle to knock them off-balance. Hafley knows more than me, but they're also might be smart QBs who recognize where the soft spots are.

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