GREEN BAY, WI (AP)–The evolution for three-time defending NFC North champion Green Bay into a defense-driven team has been underway for awhile. The transition for the Green Bay Packers has been ongoing for a few years, starting with their first-round draft picks in the spring and extending to the field in the fall.

Despite the transcendent presence of four-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, the Packers have quietly evolved into a defense-driven team.

“You’ve got do the work and see it,” outside linebacker Rashan Gary said, “but you see the type of guys we’ve got and the type of ball we’re playing, and you also see the standard we’re holding each other to.”

The Packers defense has not finished in the top quarter of the league in either fewest points or yards allowed since the 2010 championship season, when they ranked second and fifth in those categories during Rodgers’ third year as the starter.

They were close in each of the past three seasons, landing ninth in yards in both 2021 and 2020 and ninth in points in 2019, and they’ve frankly amassed enough talent now that failing to do so this year would be an underachievement.

The requested offseason departure of wide receiver Davante Adams, via trade to Las Vegas, could well serve as the seminal moment in the shift. Not only did the deal remove a five-time Pro Bowl pick and elite pass-catcher from the offense, it netted the Packers the 22nd overall pick in the draft that became Georgia linebacker Quay Walker.

So when the Packers start the season on Sept. 11 at division rival Minnesota, most likely their primary competition in an NFC North they have won three straight times, they are expected to field a starting base defense with seven homegrown players.

Nose tackle Kenny Clark (2016), cornerback Jaire Alexander (2018), outside linebacker Rashan Gary and safety Darnell Savage (2019), cornerback Eric Stokes (2021) and Walker were all first-round draft choices.

“This defense has obviously a really good opportunity to be a top defense in the league,” said Rodgers, who will turn 39 on Dec. 2. “I don’t want to crown anybody before we get to the season, but the expectations are definitely high.”