The Green Bay Packers will see a healthy Clay Matthews returning and Julius Peppers providing another pass-rushing threat, but inside linebacker remains a question mark.
The Green Bay Packers left the draft without selecting an inside linebacker, and this leaves fans in Green Bay cause for concern since the defense struggled to stop the run last season, and the underwhelming play of Brad Jones was a major factor.
A.J. Hawk performed solidly though, and the coaching staff went as far as to call 2013 Hawk’s best season ever. The former first-round pick finished with 118 tackles and five sacks. He wasn’t enough of a game changer though, and Jones didn’t live up to the billing of his three-year, $11 million contract despite finishing with 84 tackles and three sacks.
Jones dealt with a hamstring injury that caused him to miss four games last season, and Jamari Lattimore took his place. Lattimore didn’t do enough to stand out as a full-time starter, but he was arguably better than Jones and showed enough potential to be a future starter. The former undrafted free agent will compete with Jones for the starting job opposite Hawk.
Sam Barrington also figures to factor into the battle for playing time at inside linebacker, and he may be a dark horse to become a starter.
If Ryan Shazier and C.J. Mosley were still available in the draft, the Packers may have drafted one of them, but they were both selected shortly before it was the Packers’ turn.
Despite their question marks at inside linebacker, outside linebacker will be a strong position for the Packers. This is largely due to having Clay Matthews on the field. He is an elite NFL pass rusher and has the ability to impact an entire defense with his presence.
The Pro Bowler will need to stay healthy though, as he did not look 100 percent in 2013 due to a broken thumb. He was forced to miss five games plus the playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers.
Matthews still finished with a respectable 7.5 sacks. Finding a pass-rushing threat across from Matthews has been an issue for the past couple of seasons, so the Packers signed Julius Peppers in free agency. Although Peppers may never reach double-digit sacks again, he can still take pressure off Matthews and will be hungry for a Super Bowl ring.
Peppers may also take snaps at defensive end, as is the case with converted outside linebacker Mike Neal. Neal had the best season of his career when he finished with five sacks.
Carl Bradford is expected to start out at outside linebacker, but he is seen as a possible inside linebacker. Nick Perry has failed to make a significant impact as expected after being drafted in the first round, but this has been partly due to injuries.
Nate Palmer and Andy Mulumba will also fight for roster spots, but if Matthews and Perry can stay healthy, they will find it difficult to make the team.