Countdown to Camp: Linebacker groups have mix of proven and emerging players

Top three on the outside is clear, perhaps inside as well

LB Preston Smith

As training camp approaches, is examining Green Bay's roster, position by position. The series continues with the linebackers.

GREEN BAY – At outside linebacker, the Packers know who their top three are. It's just a question of how they'll be utilized.

The same maybe could be said at inside linebacker as well.

That's the early read on the position group for new defensive coordinator Joe Barry based on how the offseason program unfolded.

The pass rushers on the edge are led by Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith, plus Rashan Gary, and odds are decent Barry will find ways to get all three of them on the field together in 2021, just as his predecessor Mike Pettine did last season.

Za'Darius Smith (6-4, 272) has been one of the top sack artists in the league over his two years in Green Bay, recording 26 sacks through the 2019-20 seasons, plus three more in the playoffs. He has frequently roamed around the defensive front, attacking from the edge or the interior depending on the personal package and down-and-distance situation.

Preston Smith (6-5, 265) has added 16 sacks (plus two in the postseason) over that same two-year span, as his total dropped from a career-high 12 in 2019 to just four last season, though he did still rank second on the team in tackles for loss (seven) and tied for second in QB hits (11).

Gary (6-5, 277), a first-round draft pick in 2019, has seen his playing time increase over his first two seasons, a trajectory that is expected to continue after his strong finish to 2020. Gary had 2½ of his five regular-season sacks in December and then added 1½ sacks in the playoff win over the Rams, when he recorded three QB hits on Jared Goff.

The next option behind those big three pass rushers will be determined during training camp and the preseason, with several young prospects in the running.

If there's a favorite, it might be Randy Ramsey (6-3, 238), who came to Green Bay undrafted in 2019 from Arkansas, spent his rookie season on the practice squad, and then made the roster last season. He appeared in 12 games, mostly on special teams, where he ranked third on the squad in coverage tackles.

Other returnees include 2020 seventh-round draft pick from Miami, Jonathan Garvin, who saw limited playing time during the first half of last season; Tipa Galeai (6-5, 229), an undrafted rookie a year ago from Utah State who spent the season on the practice squad; and Delontae Scott (6-5, 246), also undrafted last year, from SMU, but as a defensive lineman who is converting to outside linebacker after a year on the practice squad.

The following is the sixth installment in a series of photos examining the Packers' roster position by position. This installment examines the linebackers.

The new addition at edge rusher is undrafted rookie Carlo Kemp (6-3, 281), who like Scott is converting from the defensive line. A two-time team captain at Michigan, Kemp started 29 games for the Wolverines.

At inside linebacker, the trio of Krys Barnes, Kamal Martin and veteran addition De'Vondre Campbell appear poised to lead the group at the start of camp, though the pecking order isn't as definite as it is on the outside.

Barnes (6-2, 229) came out of nowhere last year as an undrafted rookie from UCLA to earn a starting job for the season opener. He ended up tying for second on the team in total tackles with 78, including five for loss, despite missing three games on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

His biggest highlight came via a forced fumble at the goal line vs. Carolina when QB Teddy Bridgewater tried to jump over the pile on a sneak. The play proved pivotal in a close December victory, and Barnes went on to start both postseason games and play through a broken thumb.

Martin (6-3, 240) didn't have as productive a rookie year, in part due to injuring his knee in training camp and missing the first five games. The fifth-round draft pick from Minnesota did end up seeing action in 10 games with six starts, recording 23 tackles, including three for loss, and a sack.

When GM Brian Gutekunst didn't add a draft pick in the spring to join the two promising rookies from a year ago, he suggested he'd look to sign a veteran at the position and did so with Campbell. At 6-4, 232, Campbell's size is notable and his experience over four years with the Falcons and one with the Cardinals includes 70 NFL starts, more than 4,000 career snaps, more than 400 tackles, plus 7½ sacks and three interceptions.

The Packers' depth at inside linebacker features more experience than most years, with third-year pro Ty Summers and fourth-year pro Oren Burks returning. Both have been leaders on special teams in recent seasons, while Summers (6-1, 241) filled in a fair amount on defense last year and posted 27 tackles. Burks (6-3, 233) was a reserve at outside linebacker last season but has moved back inside again with Barry taking over the defense.

Another returning player is De'Jon Harris (6-0, 231), who spent his rookie season on the practice squad after entering the league undrafted last year from Arkansas.

The newcomers are sixth-round draft pick Isaiah McDuffie from Boston College and Ray Wilborn from Ball State.

McDuffie (6-1, 227) overcame a knee injury in 2019 to finish that year strong and put together a productive 2020 season that saw him lead his team and rank fifth in the country with 107 tackles. Wilborn (6-3, 230) was signed to a futures contract in January after spending time in Atlanta's training camp and on Pittsburgh's practice squad as an undrafted rookie last year.

 Countdown to Camp series

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