The following is the seventh installment in a series of stories that’ll examine the Packers’ roster position by position. This installment examines the linebackers.
GREEN BAY—The Packers sustained significant losses at inside linebacker in 2012, when Desmond Bishop was lost for the season in just the first quarter of the first preseason game, and his replacement, D.J. Smith, was gone six games into the regular season with a knee injury. Now, both players are with other teams.
So why are Head Coach Mike McCarthy and Inside Linebackers Coach Winston Moss so high on the talent at that position?
This past spring, McCarthy said the depth at inside linebacker is the best he’s seen in his time at Green Bay, and Moss stayed on the competition theme, which is clearly the emphasis for this year’s training camp.
“There’s a mindset that you need to stay on that field because if you come off that field, you might not have a job waiting for you when you come back,” Moss said.
Veteran A.J. Hawk is the steadying influence on the inside. Brad Jones emerged following the loss of Smith, and now Jones has a new contract and seemingly job security. Jones totaled 102 tackles, six passes defensed, a couple of sacks and a forced fumble in 2012. His play was one of the season’s pleasant surprises.
Depth? Terrell Manning, a fifth-round pick in 2012 whose rookie season was compromised by a training camp illness, made big strides this past spring. Much is expected of Manning in his second season.
Robert Francois has been a durable backup inside linebacker for the Packers and he’s a big part of the depth to which McCarthy alluded.
Jamari Lattimore is a versatile player that brings outside linebacker-type athletic ability to the inside position, and rookie seventh-round pick Sam Barrington was regarded as an underrated player at South Florida and a guy whose best football is ahead of him.
There’s the depth and the competition on the inside. It’s significant enough to have made Bishop and Smith expendable.
The stars, of course, are on the outside, beginning with Clay Matthews, one of the game’s elite pass rushers. Armed with a new, long-term contract, Matthews will continue his assault on the Packers’ all-time sacks record, 74.5 by Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. Matthews has 42.5 through four seasons.
At the other outside linebacker position, 2012 first-round pick Nick Perry was settling into his role despite suffering a wrist injury in Week 2. He played on for four more games, until a knee injury ended his season. It was decided at that time that Perry required surgery on the wrist.
Dezman Moses was an undrafted surprise in last year’s training camp and played in all 16 games, starting six of those games and recording four sacks.
Nate Palmer, a sixth-round draft pick this year, will be making the move from college defensive end at Illinois State, where he recorded 9.5 sacks last season, to outside linebacker in Packers Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme.
Rookie undrafted free agent Andy Mulumba was the second overall pick of the CFL this year, and Jarvis Reed of Prairie View is another undrafted free agent on the Packers roster.
It’s also noteworthy that defensive end Mike Neal spent time at outside linebacker this past spring.
Previously featured in "Countdown to camp":
QBs - Rodgers on pace for greatness
RBs - Lacy, Franklin offer hope
TEs - Well worth watching, storylines abound
WRs - 'Big three' will lead
OL - Right tackle up for grabs
DL - Packers counting on young DL