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Quay Walker eyed as key piece in Packers' new defense

Scheme/coaching change could unlock more of linebacker’s playmaking ability

LB Quay Walker
LB Quay Walker

INDIANAPOLIS – With another new season approaching, the narrative on Quay Walker has undergone a seismic shift.

A year ago at this time, all the talk surrounding Walker was whether the young inside linebacker would display the maturity required to succeed at the NFL level.

His promising rookie season in 2022 had been marred by two ejections for after-the-whistle personal fouls that showed a lack of discipline from the first-round draft pick out of Georgia.

He passed that test with flying colors, engaging in nary a post-play scuffle in his second season and keeping his intense, high-energy game clean. On top of that, he once again led the Packers in tackles with 118, nearly matching his rookie number of 119 despite missing three games due to injuries.

His tackles for loss (7), sacks (2½) and QB hits (5) also rose modestly from his rookie totals, and he added a team-best 20 tackles (plus another TFL) in two playoff games.

Having settled in as a seasoned pro, now the unknown with Walker has taken on a decidedly more positive vibe – just how is new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley going to use the athletic 6-4, 241-pound 'backer in the switch to a 4-3 defense?

"I know the coaches are really excited about him," GM Brian Gutekunst said this week at the NFL Scouting Combine. "They're really excited about what he can do."

Neither Gutekunst, nor Hafley when he spoke to the Green Bay media for the first time last week, got into specifics as to where Walker fits best at the linebacker level. So no need to peg him into a specific spot just yet.

What is clear is his combination of size, range and speed could lead to an expanded list of duties in the scheme transition.

"He's just such a versatile player," Gutekunst said. "He can do so many things in all phases of the game.

"It'll be a learning curve for sure because there are some new things they're going to ask him to do. But I do think (he has) ability to make plays within the box and outside, and rush the passer. He can kind of do it all."

He'll provide a nice piece for Hafley and the defensive staff to build around, whether or not fellow inside linebacker De'Vondre Campbell returns. The Packers have a cap-related decision to make regarding Campbell's contract, which will work itself out soon.

Isaiah McDuffie will be back for his fourth season, and the former sixth-round pick could be in line for a larger role after filling in productively the past couple of years during injury absences for Campbell and/or Walker.

But beyond that, with Eric Wilson a pending unrestricted free agent, the Packers have no other experienced linebackers for a 4-3 alignment. So building the group is a priority for Gutekunst through free agency and/or the draft, perhaps with an eye toward finding another young, all-around athlete like Walker to see what Hafley & Co. might do with him.

"It's a little thin right now," Gutekunst said of the position, which will require an extra roster spot (or two or three, including the practice squad) due to the new defensive system. "We're going to have to add some numbers."

In the meantime, the new defensive coaches expect to find ways to add to Walker's highlight reel.

How exactly remains to be seen, but Hafley has done little since his arrival in Green Bay except watch film from last year's defense, and he sounds like he's putting together a plan for Walker.

"Quay's a talented player," Hafley said. "As we build this thing, we're going to make sure he's in position to make a lot of plays. So whatever we feel as we piece it together where that is, that's where we'll put him."

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