Defensive lineman Santana Dotson was on his way to Green Bay in
late April for teammate Reggie White's retirement press
conference when, during a layover in Detroit, his pager went
off. TURN AROUND AND GO HOME, the message read. While Dotson was
in the air between his home in Houston and the Detroit airport,
the Lord--who Reggie said had inspired him to sign with the
Packers in the first place--had once again intervened on Green
Bay's behalf, and White had decided to unretire. Dotson
continued on to Green Bay anyway. Upon his arrival he declared
with a smirk, "I've come all this way, so somebody better be
retiring." He then jokingly raised his hand as if to volunteer.
It was a much needed moment of levity for a defensive line that
has had little to laugh about lately. The Packers finished '97
ranked 20th against the run, their worst showing since 1990. With
the aging White hampered by a bulging disk in his back and
nosetackle Gilbert Brown apparently more interested in Big Macs
than big sacks, Green Bay was stampeded by the Broncos for 179
yards on the ground in Super Bowl XXXII.
"Defenses win championships in the NFL," says Dotson, who signed
with the Packers in 1996 after four relatively uneventful seasons
in Tampa. "Our defense is only as good as our defensive line. So
it comes down to us. We have to stop licking our wounds from the
Super Bowl and get back to being the dominating line we were two
Green Bay's hopes of becoming the first NFC team to reach three
straight Super Bowls--or even of fending off the rising
Buccaneers in the NFC Central--depend on the revitalization of
the defensive line. The loss of cornerback Doug Evans and free
safety Eugene Robinson to free agency, which strong safety LeRoy
Butler says reduced the team's secondary to a bunch of "young
guys running around in circles," makes pressuring the passer all
the more essential. But the most important by-product of
stuffing the run is getting the ball back for the offense, into
the hands of guys like running back Dorsey Levens, wideout
Antonio Freeman and quarterback Brett Favre, the three-time NFL
MVP who has thrown for an eye-popping 112 touchdowns in the last
three years. In the Super Bowl, Denver won the
time-of-possession battle by almost five minutes.
"The main thing we talk about on defense is getting off the field
so number 4 can go to work," says Dotson, whose first name comes
from that of a 19th-century Indian chief, not the rock band.
"When the ball is in Brett's hands, we always have a chance to
win, so the best place for us is to be sipping Gatorade on the
sideline watching him."
Vonnie Holliday, the Packers' No. 1 pick, got a close-up look at
the team's star quarterback during his first scrimmage on the
first day of training camp. The rookie defensive lineman
bull-rushed his blocker and fell on Favre, who, luckily, escaped
Green Bay expects Holliday to similarly threaten opponents.
After spending four years on the interior at North Carolina,
he'll line up as the starter at right end. On passing downs
Holliday will move inside so Brown can suck oxygen, and either
third-year lineman Keith McKenzie or impressive third-round pick
Jonathan Brown will take the end. White diligently rehabbed his
back during the off-season, but for now the righteous Reverend's
mouth seems to be his most dangerous weapon. To give the
36-year-old White some occasional rest on the left side, the
Pack picked up defensive end Vaughn Booker in a trade with
Kansas City. Says line coach Larry Brooks, who is in his fifth
year in Green Bay, "For the first time since I've been here, we
have enough quality guys up front to allow people to take
breathers during games."
The only one who doesn't get a rest is Dotson. Unlike Brown and
White, who each missed a significant number of snaps in 1997
because of injuries, the 6'5", 285-pound Dotson has never missed
a game and hasn't sat out a practice in two years. Last season,
using his knack for absorbing a blocker's initial hit and then
swimming his way back into plays, Dotson led Packers linemen in
tackles and was tied for second on the team in sacks. "Reggie
and Gilbert may get all the attention," says Holliday, "but
Santana is the unheralded leader of the line."
In fact, Dotson's mock retirement in April probably scared the
Packers more than White's. As compensation for flying all the
way to Green Bay, however, Dotson was promised a dinner from
White. "Six hours in a plane for nothing?" Dotson says. "Believe
me, I will get that meal."
There are plenty of good restaurants in Miami. Whether the Pack
will be feasting there come Jan. 31 will depend in large part on
how hungry Dotson and the defensive line prove to be this fall.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER PACK STOP Dotson is now the stopper of the line, but he'll need more help from his teammates this year to keep Tampa at bay. [Santana Dotson in game]
B/W PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Sharper [Darren Sharper]
Sept. 6 DETROIT
13 TAMPA BAY
20 at Cincinnati
27 at Carolina
Oct. 5 MINNESOTA (Mon.)
11 OPEN DATE
15 at Detroit (Thurs.)
Nov. 1 SAN FRANCISCO
9 at Pittsburgh (Mon.)
15 at N.Y. Giants
22 at Minnesota
Dec. 7 at Tampa Bay (Mon.)
27 at Chicago
1997 Record 13-3 (first in NFC Central) NFL rank
(rush/pass/total): offense 12/3/4; defense 20/8/7
1998 Schedule strength NFL rank: 8 Opponents' 1997 winning
percentage: .521 Games against playoff teams: 9
No Place Like Home
Is Brett Favre unbeatable at Lambeau Field? Not quite, but Favre
has the highest career winning percentage in games started at
home of any quarterback who began his NFL career since 1967, the
year the NFL and AFL established a common draft (minimum 25 home
NFL career starts W L Pct.
Brett Favre, Packers* 1991- 46 41 5 .891
Terry Bradshaw, Steelers 1970-83 79 67 12 .848
Roger Staubach, Cowboys 1969-79 59 49 10 .831
John Elway, Broncos 1983- 112 89 23 .795
Danny White, Cowboys 1976-88 47 37 10 .787
*Favre played one season for the Falcons (1991) but did not start
Second-year man Darren Sharper's move from corner in the
Packers' dime package to starting free safety will create more
big-play chances for the defense. He set a Green Bay record with
three touchdowns on defensive returns in '97, and as a free
safety at William & Mary he had 24 interceptions over three
seasons.... Speaking of big plays, seven of the 13 passes
against the Packers that went for 35 yards or more, including
the postseason, came at the expense of right cornerback Tyrone
Williams. Nevertheless, the Green Bay pass defense held opposing
quarterbacks to a league-low 59.0 passer rating, and it gains
depth and experience in five-time Pro Bowl corner Terry
McDaniel, a free agent whom the Raiders cut in a salary-cap
move.... Another nice free-agent pickup was former Bear Raymont
Harris, the self-styled "ultraback" who can spell both tailback
Dorsey Levens and fullback William Henderson.... The Packers'
pass rush ranked 20th in the NFL in sacks per opponents'
dropbacks.... Right tackle Earl Dotson surrendered only 1 1/2
sacks in 19 games.
Projected Lineup With 1997 statistics
Coach: Mike Holmgren
Seventh season with Packers (64-32 in NFL)
Offensive Backs PVR*
QB Brett Favre 2[PVR*] 513 att. 304 comp. 59.3%
3,867 yds. 35 TDs 16 int. 92.6 rtg.
RB Dorsey Levens 6[PVR*] 329 att. 1,435 yds. 4.4
avg. 53 rec. 370 yds. 7.0 avg. 12 TDs
FB William Henderson 300[PVR*] 31 att. 113 yds. 3.6
avg. 41 rec. 367 yds. 9.0 avg. 1 TD
RB Raymont Harris[N] 158[PVR*] 275 att. 1,033 yds. 3.8
avg. 28 rec. 115 yds. 4.1 avg. 10 TDs
Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
WR Antonio Freeman 28[PVR*] 81 rec. 1,243 yds. 12 TDs
WR Robert Brooks 99[PVR*] 60 rec. 1,010 yds. 7 TDs
WR Derrick Mayes 254[PVR*] 18 rec. 290 yds. 0 TDs
TE Mark Chmura 69[PVR*] 38 rec. 417 yds. 6 TDs
K Ryan Longwell 111[PVR*] 48/48 XPs 24/30 FGs 120 pts.
PR Glyn Milburn[N] 271[PVR*] 47 ret. 9.2 avg. 0 TDs
KR Glyn Milburn[N] 271[PVR*] 55 ret. 23.9 avg. 0 TDs
LT Ross Verba 6'4" 299 lbs. 16 games 11 starts
LG Marco Rivera 6'4" 295 lbs. 14 games 0 starts
C Frank Winters 6'3" 300 lbs. 13 games 13 starts
RG Adam Timmerman 6'4" 295 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT Earl Dotson 6'4" 315 lbs. 13 games 13 starts
LE Reggie White 46 tackles 11 sacks
LT Gilbert Brown 27 tackles 3 sacks
RT Santana Dotson 71 tackles 5 1/2 sacks
RE Vonnie Holliday[N](R) 64 tackles 5 sacks
OLB George Koonce 10 tackles 0 sacks
MLB Bernardo Harris 113 tackles 1 sack
OLB Brian Williams 100 tackles 2 int.
CB Craig Newsome** 71 tackles 2 int.
SS LeRoy Butler 103 tackles 5 int.
FS Darren Sharper 13 tackles 2 int.
CB Tyrone Williams 66 tackles 1 int.
P Sean Landeta[N] 54 punts 42.1 avg
[N]New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 88)