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They say you must build a defense, they win championships.
The Green Bay Packers have been building a defense longer than it took the Egyptians to build the Great Pyramid.
For the 8th consecutive year, the Packers went defense with their first-round draft choice and on Thursday night, they went defense with their first two picks of the draft.
General Manager Brian Gutekunst pooh-poohed the naysayers who knocked Rashan Gary’s lack of production and lackluster games by taking the Michigan Wolverine defensive lineman with the 12th overall pick of the draft.
Gutekunst said the 6-5, 281 pound front seven player said on film Gary was extremely productive, he impacted games every Saturday and “at times, he wrecked them.” A freakish athlete with speed and power, Gary missed a couple of games last season with a torn right labrum but told reporters from an Ann Arbor bowling alley Thursday night that his shoulder is “110%”, it won’t require any surgery and he’s ready to take on the NFL.
The Packers didn’t outwardly express interest in Gary before the draft but Midwest Scout Joe Hueber said “we’ve been on him since he set foot on campus” and Gutekunst said he was our targeted player at number 12 since February.
The Packers say they’ll start Gary as an outside linebacker joining free agent veteran acquisitions Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith at the position.
Gutekunst, for the second year in a row, made a first round trade with his old Packer personnel partner John Schneider in Seattle. Gutekunst gave the Seahawks both fourth round picks (114, 118) in order to climb from number 30 to number 21 in the first round to select Maryland safety Darnell Savage Jr.
Gutekunst called him an elite athlete with top level speed and an aggressive spirit to his game. He can cover the back end with range and is a willing run supporter in the box.
Savage, just a shade under six feet and a stone under 200 pounds is expected to come in and compete for a starting safety spot oppositve the third unrestricted free agent brought to town last month in former Bear Adrian Amos.
Savage was the first safety taken in the draft and Gutekunst said he’s a player we really wanted and we’re concerned he wouldn’t last until the 30th spot.
Gutekunst said with a smile it got only slightly uncomfortable in the team’s draft room taking a pair of defensive players with a brand new, offensive-minded Head Coach in Matt LaFleur sitting right next to him. LaFleur understands good players, at any position will help the entire team.
Since 2012, the Packers have used every first round pick on defense. That year, their first six choices came on that side of the ball. Two years later, two of their top three picks played D, it was three of the first four in 2015, four of the first five in 2016, the top four in 2017 and the top three last year.
An awful lot of talent was brought in and yet, the building continues.
Mark Daniels reporting from Lambeau Field