2014 Packers Position Group Analysis: Inside Linebackers

Packers Inside Linebackers:  This group severely lacked playmakers. The coaching staff was forced to lean on A.J. Hawk, who has lost significant speed in the last few years. And now with the losses of Hawk and Brad Jones, the only inside linebacker on the roster is the very green Sam Barrington.

Where are we now:

Here is the current suspect:

Sam Barrington (7th Round, 2013)

This is the reason the Packers were ranked 23rd in rushing defense by allowing nearly 120 yards a game last year. This unit had trouble tackling, couldn’t shed blocks quick enough and displayed mediocre coverage skills.

  • A.J. Hawk: The continued downslide ran its course as a Packer. Hawk may have a coach’s acumen, but has lost the ability to play at a high level. Even football instincts betrayed him at the end of the season.
  • Brad Jones: He came into the season with plenty of promise, but the wheels quickly came off the bus. Unlike Hawk, who saw his physical gifts slowly evaporate, Jones made a number of mind-numbing plays that made the entire Packer Nation go batty. He was called for five of the seven penalties that the inside linebackers were flagged for.
  • Jamari Lattimore: Injuries really rendered him useless this year, but the Packers saw enough that they don’t want to see him in the near future.
  • Sam Barrington: The seventh round pick has shown promise. He may not possess the traits of a polished linebacker. He’s not overly fast, but he isn’t afraid to put his head in the pile and deliver a punishing hit.

Where we want to be:

With zero depth right now, it would behoove the Packers’ brass to draft this position early and often. The Packers need to establish an identity. They just need to get tougher. They have to send a message to opposing teams that they will not be allowed to run it like they did last year. And if they run it down the middle, they’re going to pay the price.

How do we get there?

There are plenty of solid inside linebackers in the upcoming draft. Mississippi State’s Benardrick McKinney and Michigan State’s Taiwan Jones are two guys that aren’t afraid to deliver a hit that will likely be around when the Packers draft in the first round (30th overall) and third round (94th overall).

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Cory Jennerjohn is from Wisconsin and has been in sports media for over 10 years. To contact Cory e-mail him at jeobs -at- yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter: Cory Jennerjohn

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  • David Bartel

    Let the gnashing of teeth begin.

  • Taryn Miller

    You forget about Matthews at ILB….some have been clamoring for him to stay there since we have the dynamic Nick Perry and the other caped crusader Mike Neal to play OLB in his place.

  • Since ’61

    I’d like to see the Packers draft 2 ILBs plus sign at least one maybe 2 FA ILBs with NFL experience. The FAs don’t need to be great but at least they could provide some depth and experience. We’re just about starting over at this position group similar to where we were with the safety position last year. Actually ILB is worse since we only have Barrington, while last year at safety we had Burnett and Hyde. If we can fix ILB like we did with safety we’ll be OK. Thanks, Since ’61

    • Jeff

      Besides Barrington they brought in a guy from the IFL, Josh Francis then they already had Bradford, Hubbard, Palmer and Mulumba on the roster who could be played at the position so depth is there but experience is not so I would agree in bringing in one or two FA’s with some experience just to help with the young guys. I also think at least one good ILB will be around in the 2nd round because losing both Williams and House just made the first round pick a must at corner!

      • Since ’61

        Jeff – your point about Josh Francis and Bradford as depth is well taken, but we don’t what we have with either of them yet. As for Palmer, Malumba and Hubbard, they were non-factors last season and may be again this season. Also, I never like to weaken one position group (in this case OLB) to try to beef up another. I would like to sign 2 experienced FA ILBs because it prepares for the worst case scenario, that being an injury to Barrington. Also, it sends a message to Barrington that he still has competition in training camp. Chances are one of the 2 FAs would end up being released but let’s go into camp with Barrington, Francis, Bradford, a couple of FAs and 2 draft choices and see what we end up with. Thanks, Since ’61

  • funcrusher

    Matthews should stay at ILB. People seem to forget how horrible he was at OLB early last year. He had much more success once they started moving him around.

    • Nick Perry

      I don’t think I’d ever call Matthews “Horrible” but you’re right, as soon as he was mover inside he was a Beast! He had 2.5 sacks through the first 8 games and 8.5 in the last 8 games. Part of that was others stepping up as well too.

      • TedTomsin

        As they say, the numbers don’t lie.
        Ted

    • TedTomsin

      funcrusher, this is probably one of the biggest decisions on defense going forward that strangely isn’t really being talked about … at least not yet.

      The decision to move Matthews to inside linebacker permanently or in his same dual role as last year could be a huge story this season.

      I personally agree with you and others. He thrived in the middle. They would be absolutely crazy not to keep him in the middle with all the success he has had. The only question to me will be Matthews himself. Did he like the increased production from his new position and how his new position actually improved the defense or will he be selfish and let the team know he wants to go back to OLB and if he doesn’t he won’t be a happy camper.

      This is going to be huge. They probably know the answer already and I hope Matthews decided he want to continue to play in the middle. He was dominating inside. Outside? Not so much.
      Ted

      • funcrusher

        I’m kind of hoping that’s why the Packers have let a bunch of veteran ILB’s go, but haven’t added any in free agency. They’re just gonna roll with CM3, Barrington, Bradford and a rookie or two.

        • TedTomsin

          Yep!!

        • Americans1st

          Sean Richardson has good height at 6’2, 216. He’s about 12-15 pounds away, and as much as 4″ taller than some of the top prospects at middle linebacker. From all reports, he is a good tackler. I wonder why he can’t muscle up, add some weight and play ILB on obvious passing downs. He has great speed and has been covering throughout his entire career. I have to think he can be effective there. I’m pretty sure he has played some LB in the dime. This would clear Matthews to rush on those obvious pass situations. Thoughts?

          • funcrusher

            I’m no expert, but I feel like he’d get buried in the run game, unless he put on at least 30 pounds. Without it, I doubt he’d be able to get off blocks or have the strength to shoot through traffic and make tackles. But, then the question would be: Can he carry that extra weight? It’s tough to say. I highly doubt he’d make that transition full time, but in obvious passing situations, I’m sure he could have some success. Sounds like you’re pretty high on him and so am I. Hopefully they find a way to get him more involved.

            • Americans1st

              He’s already 216. Many top prospects are 230-ish. I don’t see him as a crushing tackler, just a wrap up and bring down guy, and again, primarily in pass downs. Yeah I kind of like that he went to Vanderbilt. You really can’t be a dummy and go there. It has been a thought for a while because of his size and speed. Thanks for reply.

  • croatpackfan

    Why everyone forgetting that packers signed one FA, Josh Francis… So, they have 3 ILB – Sam, Carl & Josh. I agree they need more, but still there is 3 of them.

  • Big T

    With tentative Ted dilly dallying I would say we are screwed, blued, and tattoed… Hope I am wrong but with Grandpa Ted’s history with defense, were effed.

  • Kevin

    I want to see the packers get Stephone Anthony. His speed and athleticism are undeniable. I also feel McKinney would be a great addition as well. And we’re also forgetting about Josh Francis. He is an unknown but he is feisty and knows how to tackle as well. I think this position could become one of great strength with a good addition through the draft. If worst comes to worse, they will use Matthews at ILB to back up the crew but with some added talent that won’t be necessary. I’m hopeful that we can either land Eddie Goldman, Kevin Johnson, or Jordan Plilips in the 1st, one of the middle linebackers in the second, and whatever position wasn’t drafted in the first round, in the 3rd.

  • dobber

    Carl Bradford is currently an ILB, isn’t he?

    • Nick Perry

      Yup and he’s going to be a interesting player to watch moving forward. Others have said it many times as well as most scouts, Bradfords position in the NFL is ILB. He was described as a guy who “Played like his hair was on fire”. I’d settle for smoldering at this point from Bradford but I have a feeling he’ll begin to earn his keep this season.

      • dobber

        I think this might be part of why TT hasn’t kicked the tires on some FA ILBs, although I can’t help but wonder if he was a possible solution why he wasn’t active on game days and seeing reps last fall when they were playing Jones and Hawk.

        • TedTomsin

          ding!! ding!! ding!! You are the winner dobber!! Congrats!!
          You are correct!! Everyone is in a panic over ILB and the starter is right before everyone’s eyes but they simply are too blind to see. It’s Carl Bradford. People are so blind that the author didn’t even mention his name. lol

          I’ll say it again. TT relies on draft and develop not rape and pillage like the Vikings do. He drafted Bradford, he saw he was raw, athletic but too young and inexperienced to play so he stashed him for a year of learning and he will make his spash this season.

          No panic at 1265 Lombardi with the inside linebackers. It’s only the fans that are worried. Like usual Ted was a year ahead of everyone else. This is his plan. Yes, he will probably draft one or two ILB’s but if they don’t keep Matthews at ILB (they should) it will be Carl Bradford as your starter.
          Ted

          • Nick Perry

            TED normally you and I are on the same page but I don’t think the Packers drafted Bradford with the thought of ILB. Through OTA and training camp and the first 3 preseason games he played OLB. It was only because he played so poorly outside they moved him inside. He was a 4th round pick, no way was TED cutting him. I know I’m anxious to see him play this year, most thought he was a steal in the 4th.

            • Iconoclast17

              Maybe. Yet Latimore, Hawk, Chillar, Francois and Brad Jones were all OLB before being moved inside. At least the stiff AJ Hawk got cut. Jones too. Addition by subtraction and better days ahead at ILB.

  • dobber

    “Benardrick McKinney and Michigan State’s Taiwan Jones are two guys that aren’t afraid to deliver a hit that will likely be around when the Packers draft in the first round (30th overall) and third round (94th overall)”

    Neither of these guys is likely to be the athletic sideline-to-sideline cover guy that they really need at the position, but you still need that downhill plugger in this defense. I think Jones will be there late in round 4 (unless he runs much better in his pro day) or through the middle of round 5, which wouldn’t represent a bad investment. Ideally your downhill plugger will be able to run and cover, too.

  • Americans1st

    Sean Richardson has good height at 6’2, 216. He’s about 12-15 pounds away, and as much as 4″ taller than some of the top prospects at middle linebacker. I wonder why he can’t muscle up, add the weight and play ILB on the obvious passing downs. He has great speed and has been covering throughout his entire career. I have to think he can be effective there.

  • Archie

    I see TT either trading out of pick 30 or selecting a CB or DT or Edge Rusher. I don’t see him taking an ILB at pick 30. The value just isn’t there.

    Maybe rounds 2 & 3. Although value should be very high at WR and RB at end of R3.