Packers Inside Linebackers: Now what?
While nothing has been officially announced yet, by many accounts Desmond Bishop’s days as a Green Bay Packer appear to be over.
Speculation is rampant as to whether it’s strictly a “numbers” decision or if the Packers don’t believe he’ll ever be the same after a very serious injury. Bishop claims to be 100%, but has not participated in the Packers OTAs or mini camp.
Whatever the real reason, the big question is, now what?
I’ve seen a lot of fans asking, “are we supposed to be happy with AJ Hawk and Brad Jones as our starting linebackers?”
My answer to that is, you won’t have to be. What you are likely to see is a lot of situational substitutions at the ILB spots. The Packers have a cadre of linebackers with complimentary skills. Dom Capers’ task will be to pick the right player/scheme for the specific situation.
Also remember the experimentation you’re seeing with Mike Neil and Mike Daniels being used in more of a linebacker role. The Packers suddenly find themselves very deep on the defensive line, and I would not be surprised to see some brand new defensive packages with fewer linebackers and more DL & DBs in the game.
We really won’t know until they line up against San Francisco in the first game that really matters, but you can bet they will have some new looks for Colin Kaepernick.
In the meantime, let’s take a quick look at the ILBs on the Packers’ roster:
AJ Hawk: Always the team player and good soldier, Hawk has lasted this long as a starter thanks to his firm grasp of the defensive schemes, ability to make the right defensive calls and his own assignment assuredness. There is no argument he has not lived up to expectations as the fifth player taken in the 2006 NFL draft, but the packers have been using him wisely.
As pointed out in this interesting piece over at Acme Packing Company, the Packers started using Hawk differently in 2012. Firstly, he was in on only 67% of the defensive snaps, as compared to over 90% each of the two previous years. Secondly, he was in on a higher percentage of running plays, a lower percentage of pass plays, and a very low percentage of pass rush attempts. Expect those trends to continue.
Brad Jones: A favorite of the Packers’ coaches because he is like a piece of clay – whatever the coaches ask of him, he is able to do it with enough success to make it worthwhile. He’s never going to be outstanding at any particular thing, but he is very intelligent (studied economics and astrophysics in college), quick and a true 3-down linebacker, all reasons the Packers are willing to hand him the starting job over Desmond Bishop.
Terrell Manning: Before day 3 of the 2012 draft, Manning’s name was whispered in my ear as one of the true “sleepers” in the draft and a guy the Packers would be targeting. Sure enough, Ted Thompson traded a sixth rounder and two seventh rounders to move up in the fifth round and nab Manning. I was also told Manning had a big upside, but would need a year to develop. That also turned out to be true, but for a different reason.
Manning suffered mightily from an intestinal parasite and then a few minor injuries that took him almost the entire season to shake. He finally contributed towards the end of the year on special teams, but never got back to full strength. He’s a fast, athletic player with natural pass rush skills and ability to stay with tight ends in coverage. He could turn out be the passing situation replacement for Hawk.
Jamari Lattimore: Surprised many by making the Packers’ roster outright in 2011 as an undrafted free agent out of Middle Tennessee State. Transitioned from DE in college to OLB with the Packers, who then decided to move both he and Brad Jones to the inside in 2012. Has become a standout on special teams, leading to being voted special teams captain in last year’s playoffs. Hard-hitting and fearless, Lattimore has a good shot at being the #4 ILB on the Packers roster.
Robert Francois: A player that has probably already reached his high point, Francois is a reliable emergency backup and special teams contributor. Every team needs guys like Robert Francois, but he’s not a threat to break into the lineup on his own merits and may be surpassed this year by players with more upside.
Sam Barrington: The Packers took Barrington with their last pick in this year’s draft. He played outside linebacker in South Florida’s 4-3 defense, but much like Terrell Manning, is a likely convert to ILB in the Packers 3-4.
Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.