Packers LB Poppinga To Start
Next game: Friday, August 28th at Arizona
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) -- Brady Poppinga says championship teams need players who care only about winning, not about who gets to stand in the spotlight.
The veteran Green Bay Packers linebacker insists he's one of those guys.
"You can't lose focus on what's truly important, and what's truly important is winning a championship," Poppinga said. "You look at the model, it's the New England Patriots. I think they're one of the most successful teams this decade, that's the model that they've established and worked for them. (They) have a bunch of team guys, whether this guy gets the credit or that guy gets the credit, they don't care. They want to win the Super Bowl."
But don't take that to mean that Poppinga isn't excited about the prospect of leapfrogging a pair of recent high-profile draft picks to open the season as a starting outside linebacker in the Packers' new 3-4 defense.
"It does not mean that I'm not ambitious, and that I'm not giving my very best and I'm not going to go out and strive to be whatever I need to be in order to help this team win," Poppinga said.
For the moment, at least, the Packers need Poppinga to start.
The fifth-year veteran wasn't expected to be in this position coming into training camp, given the competition at outside linebacker. Despite having to make the difficult transition from pass-rushing defensive end to outside linebacker, Aaron Kampman wasn't going to be challenged for a starting job on one side.
And Poppinga had a pair of recent draft picks in front of him on the other side, first-round rookie Clay Matthews III and last year's fourth-round pick, Jeremy Thompson. But Thompson is gradually returning to action after sustaining a stinger, and Matthews continues to sit out with a nagging hamstring injury.
Meanwhile, Poppinga came up with an interception and a fumble recovery in Saturday's preseason victory over Buffalo.
"He's taken advantage of his opportunities, and you like to see that," Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "Brady has the kind of temperament you like on defense. He's a physical player, he plays the run well, he's going to give you everything he has. And he certainly was in the right place Saturday night."
Nobody questions Poppinga's intense attitude and physical playing style, but there are questions about whether he has full skill set to make the job his own.
As an outside linebacker in the 3-4, Poppinga will be expected to drop into pass coverage on one play and power-rush an offensive lineman the next. And given Poppinga's three sacks in 60 career games, there are questions about his pass-rush ability.
Outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene insists Poppinga is a good fit in Capers' version of the 3-4, in which outside linebackers are coached to charge straight ahead and collapse the pocket instead of rushing upfield in an attempt to beat an offensive tackle around the outside.
"He's a physical pass rusher," Greene said. "And then everything else opens up, once you establish the violent, physical nature of the game. That's how I played. And that's how I'm coaching these guys."
When it comes to evaluating Poppinga's ability, Capers said he can only go on what he has seen in practice and preseason games -- and he likes what he sees so far.
"He's showed it to this point," Capers said. "I have no reason to believe that he can't."
Poppinga will turn 30 next month, having delayed his entry to Brigham Young by going on a two-year Mormon mission to Uruguay. And Poppinga continued his volunteer work this offseason.
Poppinga and his wife went with fellow linebacker A.J. Hawk and his wife to the Dominican Republic, where they worked to install running water in the town of San Cristobal.
"Now they have full-blown pipes, running water coming to each house, and it saves them a lot of time," Poppinga said. "So many people waste time just to survive, whereas we have water, food and shelter -- we take it for granted, and now we're freed up to pursue whatever desires and endeavors we have. Now they have that opportunity."
Poppinga now has an opportunity of his own on the field, but insists personal success isn't his goal.
"Is it what drives me, the source of my desire? No," Poppinga said. "I want to win a championship."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)