Packers Inside Linebackers: Now what?

Desmond Bishop, Green Bay Packers

Bye Bye Bishop?

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.



NFL Draft Prospect Profile: Sean Porter, LB Texas A&M

Green Bay Packers NFL Draft prospect profile: LB Sean Porter

Player Information:

Sean Porter, LB Texas A&M
6-1, 229 pounds
Hometown: Schertz, TX


NFL Combine:

40 yard: 4.75

Bench: 22

Vert: 35″

Broad: 119″

News and Notes:

Sean Porter’s story is much like another less known linebacker coming out of a big college program that Packers fans have gotten to know over the last couple years.  Like Clay Matthews III, Sean Porter was overshadowed by his peers in college; instead of Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga it was Von Miller and current prospect Damontre Moore.  With so much talent on the field at linebacker both Matthews and Sean Porter ended up playing everywhere, from traditional outside linebacker to the “joker”/”elephant” positions.  Porter in particular started out as the “joker” in the 3-4 and then moved both strong and weakside linebacker in a traditional 4-3 after a defensive scheme change in his senior year.  Both Porter and Matthews probably deserved to get more credit coming into the draft and like Matthews, Porter has the ability to be the best linebacker from his school this year.

 What they’re saying about him:

  • CBSSports.com: “Possesses an athletic, well-defined frame, looking the part of an NFL linebacker. Versatile defender who can line up in multiple roles. Has the burst to beat tackles off the edge as a rusher and is particularly adept at timing the snap as a walk-up blitzer, showing the burst and ability to “get skinny” to slip through interior gaps. Porter, however, is at his best in pursuit of ballcarriers on the flanks and operating in coverage due to his athleticism, including impressive straight-line speed. He shows good strength to set the edge and the agility to avoid blocks and make tackles in the running game.”


2013 Packers Position Group Analysis: Inside Linebackers

Packers Inside Linebackers:  If nothing else, the 2012 team showed us how deep we are at inside linebacker. After losing two starters in Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith, the Packers were still able to keep things together with Brad Jones in the lineup. The caveat, however, is that while the group is deep, there are no real “blue chip” players to be found.

(Note: Listen to the combined linebackers podcast at the end of this article:)

Where are we now:

Here are the current suspects:

A.J. Hawk (1st Round, 2006)
Desmond Bishop (6th Round, 2007)
Brad Jones (7th Round, 2009)
Robert Francois (UDFA, 2009)
D.J. Smith (6th Round, 2011)
Jamari Lattimore (UDFA, 2011)
Terrell Manning (5th Round, 2012)

For all the talk of the deficiencies at defensive line and outside linebacker, we seem to forget about the fact that inside linebacker is leaving us with something to be desired. It’s not a horrible group by any means, but there’s also nothing special about it. Desmond Bishop is currently the best player of the bunch, A.J. Hawk isn’t worth his contract weight, D.J. Smith was a bit of a disappointment this year, and despite his solid play, Brad Jones wasn’t much of a playmaker either. Terrell Manning seems to be the current roster’s last shred of hope among an otherwise lackluster crew, but he needs to make it onto the field first and foremost.

  • Hawk: Even though A.J. Hawk had one of his best years in 2012, it was still not great. He’s no Vince Young when it comes to first round busts, but he lacks the playmaking ability and athleticism you would expect from a player drafted at his position. His work ethic and football intelligence have kept him around for seven frustrating years, though it’s clear his salary will be more than his worth in 2013. The Packers could save $5.45 million in cap space by releasing Hawk.
  • Bishop: It’s hard to believe that Desmond Bishop will be going into his seventh season in 2013, because it took him so long to gain a starting role. His lack of consistency held him back until Nick Barnett’s season-ending injury in 2010. Since then, he has proven himself to be a hard-charged thumper that brings an attitude to the defense. More of a red chip than a blue chip player, he is easily the best inside linebacker on the squad right now.


Packers Training Camp Rewind: LB Robert Francois

Robert Francois

ILB Robert Francois, #49, celebrates an interception against the Detroit Lions.

As we head into our first days of the Green Bay Packers training camp, I decided to spotlight a few back-up players from last year’s team who could be contenders to make the roster again. My first selection is Robert Francois, an inside linebacker who made some bright flashes as a temporary starter when he managed two athletic interceptions in coverage.

During the Thanksgiving Day game against the Detroit Lions, injuries to both Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk thrust back-ups Robert Francois and D.J. Smith into action. (Incidentally, the coaches had to communicate to players via hand signals in the second half, as both Bishop and Hawk were the only two players designated to wear speakers in their helmets.) Francois went on to start the next two games: Week 13 against the New York Giants, and Week 14 against the Oakland Raiders.

According to ProFootballFocus.com, these are some of the stats for Francois in those three games:

Snaps 166
Thrown At 15
Receptions 10
Catch % 66.7%
Yards 96
Average Yards 9.6
Yards After Catch 42
Longest 17
Touchdowns 0
Interceptions 2
Passes Defensed 1
QB Sack 0
QB Hit 0
QB Hurry 0
Tackles 14
Assists 2
Missed Tackles 4
Stops 5


After watching just about every snap that Francois played, his strengths and weaknesses became pretty clear. In fact, Francois was just about manhandled during his first series against the Lions in Week 12. His first five plays saw him get sealed off from the run, allowing two receptions in man coverage, and provide a poorly executed blitz. All that, of course, was made up for on the sixth snap, when he deftly intercepted a Matthew Stafford pass over the middle of the field.

In his subsequent starts against the Giants and Raiders, however, Francois showed a significant increase in his level of play. He exhibited more patience, better timing on blitzes, and improved run support. Where he often got sealed off and controlled by blockers against Detroit, he did a better job against New York and Oakland of squaring up with the run and not over-pursuing, allowing himself to get free of blockers more easily. Francois’s lateral agility/quickness leaves something to be desired, though, and it’s part of the reason for this missed tackle of Brandon Jacobs:



According to Hobbes: Packers Offseason Primer on the NFL Combine: Inside Linebackers

Inside Linebackers: Here’s the eighth of a series of articles, looking specifically at the NFL combine and the Packers’ drafting tendencies. (Read here for the rationale for this serieshere for quarterbackshere for running backs, here for wide receivershere for tight endshere for offensive tackleshere for offensive interior linemen, here for defensive ends and here for outside linebackers).  This article will use the combine numbers from previous players drafted by GM Ted Thompson as a guide for what inside linebackers are likely to fit into the Packers’ scheme.

Again, this is merely an attempt to make a best guess based on statistics at which players the Packers might be interested in, game tape naturally trumps combine numbers, so take all of this with a grain of salt.  But I believe it will make for some interesting discussion.  Also listed below are also two inside linebackers in this year’s draft who I think fit the Packers scheme the best, based on their combine numbers.

Statistics of inside linebackers linemen drafted by the Packers:

Name Height Weight 40-Yard 3-Cone Shuttle Vertical Broad Bench
A.J. Hawk 6’1” 245.00 4.59 6.82 3.96 40.00 115.00 24.00
Abdul Hodge 6’0” 235.00 4.76 7.11 4.35 31.00 108.00 25.00
Desmond Bishop 6’2” 241.00 4.81 7.14 4.65 32.50 112.00 33.00
Average 6’1” 240.33 4.72 7.02 4.32 34.50 111.67 27.33
StDev 1.00 5.03 0.12 0.18 0.35 4.82 3.51 4.93


What the Packers are looking for: If its possible to have too much talent at a position in the NFL, the Packers epitomize it with their inside linebackers.  Nick Barnett, Brandon Chillar, AJ Hawk and Desmond Bishop are all starting caliber inside linebackers and their contracts live up to it.  The Packers have invested over $110 million into the inside linebackers with about $30 million of that guaranteed.  Needless to say, that’s quite an investment for one position.

The conundrum facing the Packers at the moment is that they like all four of their opening day inside linebackers, but they can’t afford to pay them all; of the four, AJ Hawk and Desmond Bishop received big contracts after playing in the Super Bowl and are the designated starters; this leaves Brandon Chillar and Nick Barnett, who both ended up on IR, looking in from the outside.  Will Barnett and/or Chillar still be with the team in 2011?  Economically the answer is probably no.