Muhammad Wilkerson: 'The guys up front' key to Mike Pettine's D

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Muhammad Wilkerson might be a little biased because of the position he plays, but the newest Green Bay Packers defensive end should know better than anyone else on his team what’s important in a Mike Pettine-coached defense.

“Really, the guys up front,” Wilkerson said. “It starts with the guys up front doing their job.”

Perhaps that’s why new general manager Brian Gutekunst signed Wilkerson, the former New York Jets first-round pick, even if that was probably the strongest position on the Packers' defense last season. It not only was Gutekunst’s first addition to the defense but also an indication that he will bring in players tailored to Pettine’s system.

Although there are some similarities to former defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ 3-4-based scheme, the defense Pettine plans to implement as Capers’ replacement appears to be more multiple and operates best when it has a dominant defensive line.

“Everybody staying in their gaps and stopping the run, and then, ultimately, once you get teams that like to throw the ball, mix up things, do exotic things, the blitzes and what not,” Wilkerson said of Pettine. “So he’s a great defensive coordinator who can put gritty players in many positions.”

Wilkerson, who is hoping to revive a once-successful career, joined a defensive line that includes Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry and Montravius Adams.

Daniels made his first Pro Bowl last season as an alternate. Clark had a breakout season with a strong finish, and Lowry showed significant improvement. Then there’s Adams, a third-round pick last season who played just 66 defensive snaps last season.

“Those guys have been successful,” Wilkerson said. “And I just feel like me coming to Green Bay will add more athletic ability, of course, to the defensive line. So I’m just ready to work with an experienced guy like Mike. And then you have younger guys like Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry who are on the rise. So I‘m happy to be here, especially with the defensive line.”

Wilkerson has a couple of connections to Daniels, too. They’re both from New Jersey, and Wilkerson played one year in college with Daniels’ brother, Sean, at Temple.

It may be merely a coincidence that the second defensive player the Packers have brought in -- cornerback Tramon Williams -- also has some history with Pettine. Williams played for the Browns in 2015 and 2016. Pettine was the head coach in Cleveland for Williams’ first season.

Williams’ history with the Packers probably played a bigger role. He spent his first eight seasons in Green Bay. After two years in Cleveland, he spent last season with the Cardinals and had a solid campaign at age 34. Williams turned 35 last week.

“I love Mike,” Williams told PackerReport in January shortly after Pettine joined the Packers. “One of the reasons I actually ended up signing with Cleveland. Really great guy, not only as a coach but a great guy in general. As a coach, man, very, very smart. Very smart and articulate. Obviously, his résumé shows over the years that he’s done a good job as a defensive coordinator.

“He does some things that teams just don’t expect. A lot of different coverages. He doesn’t stick with one thing. He keeps things going. He’s not going to call one play or one defense all game long. He’s going to keep switching up things and keep teams off balance. At the end of the day, the players have to make plays. Everywhere I’ve been we’ve always had pretty good corners. That’s one of the things that you do have to have in that defense. You do have to have some good corners in that defense. It’ll be successful.”