The Green Bay Packers don’t care about the inside linebacker position. That much is clear.
If they did care, they would have addressed it with a high draft pick at least once in the last few years.
But general manager Ted Thompson places no value there. He’s happy to wait around and fill the inside linebacker group with mid- and late-round picks.
Fourth-round pick Blake Martinez is the latest addition to that group. He’ll battle 2014 fourth-round pick Jake Ryan and 2013 seventh-round pick Sam Barrington for snaps.
At first glance, all three of those guys look pretty much the same. Thumpers, who aren’t particularly fast, that can play the run.
And that’s not real good for a football team that was using their best pass rusher as a coverage inside linebacker way too often in 2015.
Despite the similarities, the Packers obviously think Martinez is their coverage guy.
He doesn’t appear to have the speed to fill the role. His 4.71 combine 40 time was actually slower than Ryan’s 4.65. However, Martinez has covered just about everything and has been pretty solid in doing so.
“This last year,” Martinez said, “they left it all to me. Every single time we were in our nickel package and our dime package, I would basically stay in. We’d bring in another corner, and I’d go out and cover the tight ends, running backs and those types of things. I felt like this last year, I improved tremendously on that. I feel 100 percent confident to go out there and cover whoever I need to cover.”
And he’s confident too.
That’s what potentially separates Martinez from Ryan and Barrington.
It also gives the Packers options.
First, Clay Matthews can rush the passer on passing downs.
Second, the Packers can line up Barrington and Ryan in the base defense and bring in Martinez in sub-packages. He can fill the role Joe Thomas filled last year. In the event the opposition runs the football, Martinez likely won’t get blown five yards backwards like the too small Thomas usually did.
Or — and this is what we see as being more likely — Martinez replaces Barrington in the starting lineup.
We love Barrington as a run stopper and we love the fire he brings to the defense, but he’s as slow as molasses in January. The Packers play nickel more often than they do their base defense because the NFL is a passing league. That’s where Barrington’s lead feet are a liability.
It seems unlikely the Packers will want two inside backers that can’t cover on the field at once at any time.
We already know Ryan isn’t very good in coverage. That has more to do with experience than speed, in our estimation, so he has room for improvement.
Barrington, on the other hand, isn’t going to get any faster.
That could well mean he’ll be filling a backup role in 2016.