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Packers will rely on young defense

Associated Press Modified: September 8, 2012 at 2:47 am •  Published: September 8, 2012

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — After more than 20 years as a head coach or defensive coordinator in the NFL, Dom Capers knows some statistics are more telling than others.

One stat, in particular, caught his attention.

The Packers' defensive guru's first impression of the revamped San Francisco 49ers offense, the one he will see Sunday in the season opener, is summed up by the number 1 — it is loaded with first-round draft picks.

From quarterback Alex Smith to tight end Vernon Davis to the receiving duo of Michael Crabtree and veteran addition Randy Moss. Capers has concerns about how his defense stacks up against the 49ers in this matchup of NFC heavyweights.

"(And) you have three of them in the offensive line," Capers said Friday. "You pick that high (year after year), you're going to get pretty good."

As for the Packers, they have been accustomed to picking at or near the bottom of the first round because they have been one of the NFL's premier teams in recent years. Yet they had the league's worst defense and set a record last season for most yards passing allowed. And they go into the start of this season with several young players penciled in for key roles.

"If you look, there's a lot of youth all over that defense," Capers said. "It used to be back, 15 years ago, you drafted guys and then you gave them a year or two to develop and then played them. We're bringing them in now and putting them out there. It'll be exciting to watch how they perform, how they play."

Outside linebacker Nick Perry, the team's first-round draft pick this year, will be an opening-day starter. Jerel Worthy, a second-round selection, figures to have an extensive role paired with Pro Bowl nose tackle B.J. Raji.

Capers is also looking at an infusion of youth in the secondary to compensate for the offseason move of 35-year-old cornerback Charles Woodson to safety.

Pro Bowl cornerback Tramon Williams, who is 29, laughed when asked after practice whether he feels like one of the older players on the team. Jarrett Bush, primarily a backup the last six years with the Packers, and returning nickel back Sam Shields look to be the top candidates to start opposite Williams at cornerback.

Capers also was deciding between second-year player M.D. Jennings and rookie Jerron McMillian to come in as an extra safety when Woodson shifts into the slot on passing downs. D.J. Smith, a second-year player, is a starting replacement at inside linebacker for Desmond Bishop, who sustained a season-ending hamstring injury in the preseason.

Second-year player Davon House, who made an early bid in training camp to win a starting job at cornerback, won't play Sunday. He is out with a shoulder injury.

The many changes made on defense, which proved to be Green Bay's undoing last season with a quick exit in the playoffs after the Packers went 15-1 in the regular season, don't have a veteran such as Williams curious about what is to come.

"That's the guys who are going to be playing," Williams said of the young players. "(We) have to have full faith in those guys, and I believe they're going to get the job done."

Capers is optimistic the defense has improved and can return to being one of the league's stingiest units for giving up points. The Packers ranked in the top 10 during Capers' first two years as coordinator in 2009 and '10 (No. 2) before falling to 19th last season.

Capers isn't expecting the improvements to happen all at once.

"You'd obviously love to get off to a good start," he said of Sunday's game. "But I've felt all along that this defense will improve as the season goes on, as long as we can stay healthy. The key is we've got to find a way to go out and play at a high level this Sunday, coming out of the blocks, and that's going to be a challenge with all of the young guys we have on the field."