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Jeff Hafley’s college players provide insight into the Packers’ new DC

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By: Evan "Tex" Western

Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Several prospects who played for Hafley spoke at the Combine in recent days and discussed how the Packers’ new defensive coordinator got them ready for game day.

Playing fast. Thorough and complete preparation. Energy and excitement.

These are common trends that one can often hear during the NFL Combine, particularly in the press conferences for defensive players. But this year, the Green Bay Packers have a new defensive coordinator, and several of the prospects in attendance in Indianapolis played for him at his two stops between NFL jobs.

Hafley jumped into college football from the NFL in 2019, when he was co-defensive coordinator for the Ohio State Buckeyes. That team had one of the best defenses in the country, and three members of that unit are participating in the Combine. Defensive end Javontae Jean-Baptiste and safety Josh Proctor were each in their second years with the Buckeyes, while linebacker Tommy Eichenberg was a true freshman and redshirted.

Then after his one year in Columbus, Hafley moved on to take the head coaching job at Boston College, where cornerback Elijah Jones was on the roster. Jones became a stalwart in the Eagles’ lineup under Hafley, whose primary focus has been on defensive backs throughout his career.

Now that he is in Green Bay, there is a chance that the Packers could draft one of his former charges from his last five years in college football. Each of these four players had encouraging things to say about Hafley, and some common themes continued to show up throughout their answers.

One is that every one of the four prospects glowed when speaking about Hafley and their relationship with him as a person. “Man, he’s a great coach,” Eichenberg said. “All around, he’s just a great dude.” Jean-Baptiste was excited about the possibility of reuniting with his former coach, saying “It would be (fun), I wouldn’t be upset about that!”

Later, Proctor and Jones each started with the same sentence: “I love coach Haf.” Proctor added that “he’s one of my favorites. In 2019, he was one of the first guys to give me my chance, so me and him have been close ever since.” Jones dove into more detail about Hafley’s approach to coaching when he moved from being a defensive coordinator into the head role at Boston College: “As a head coach, especially as a DB guy, a defensive guy, he could have just manhandled and micromanaged the defense, but he let his coaches coach, which I loved as well.”

In terms of scheme and approach to calling a defense, Jean-Baptiste echoed recent comments that both Hafley and Packers head coach Matt LaFleur have made. “I feel like the Packers are getting somebody in coach Haf that is going to attack,” he said. “That year in 2019 when I was under coach Haf, he played an attacking defense that liked to get after it. He let the front rush go and he trusts in his back end to cover.”

Proctor, meanwhile, focused on Hafley’s ability to get players to play instinctively: “He just made it easy. He helped us just play fast. There wasn’t too much thinking, We were able to be ourselves and he put us in the right spots so we was able to go play.”

Finally, Jones went into even more detail about the mechanics of how Hafley prepares his players. “The biggest thing I think that he helped change with my game is just how I learn about football,” he said. “It’s not just going out there and playing the game, it’s more about understanding your opponent and understanding how you’re going to get attacked. He was just a great teacher.”

That teaching ability has Jones feeling confident in his ability to impress teams in interviews both this week and in the rest of the pre-draft process. He said that Hafley has a “great football mind,” and it’s clear that Jones has tried to soak up all he can from his former coach. “I feel like I’m the smartest DB in the draft here. I feel like any time I go on the board I can draw all 11 and he really instilled that in us. It’s not just learning your position, it’s learning one where your help is and two why things happen, not just how things happen.”

The Packers likely need off-ball linebackers for Hafley’s 4-3 defense. Eichenberg could be an option for Green Bay in the middle rounds, as he is currently rated just below the top 100 prospects on one consensus draft board. Likewise, the Packers could use more bodies in the secondary, and both Proctor and Jones could be interesting fits on day three of the draft as well.

Any one of those players sound like they would be eager to reunite with their former coach. And these specific examples of how Hafley coaches should give Packers fans more encouragement about the man now tabbed to lead the team’s defense.

Originally posted on ACME Packing Company