The issue was discussed on the podcast this morning. How important it is to have a full offseason playing a particular position in order to fully grasp and perform well at that position. We saw it when the Green Bay Packers moved Clay Matthews to inside linebacker during the middle of the 2014 season.
Matthews readily admitted he didn’t know what he was doing some of the time. That same thing happened when the Packers suddenly moved defensive end Datone Jones to outside linebacker during the 2015 season.
Jones looked like a fit when he was able to get on the field, but he clearly has a lot left to learn, considering he’s been a down lineman throughout his career.
Here’s a look at what to expect from those two in 2016, along with one wild card.
Matthews is returning to outside linebacker after a season and a half spent at inside linebacker. Matthews’ move to inside linebacker was one of necessity. The Packers simply didn’t have an inside linebacker on their roster capable of doing much of anything before Matthews was shuffled over there in 2014. The emergence of Sam Barrington changed that slightly, but he got injured one game into the 2015 season. That, and the lack of another decent coverage linebacker, kept Matthews inside for the majority of 2015.
The Packers have had enough of that. Matthews will be moving back outside. Barrington, second-year pro Jake Ryan and rookie Blake Martinez will battle for snaps inside.
That primarily means one thing — a better pass rush. Matthews’ sacks dropped to 6.5 in 2015, the second-lowest single-season total of his career. The primary reason for that is Matthews was in coverage on third down more than the Packers would have liked, in 2015. That should not be the case in 2016. Matthews should be rushing the passer opposite Julius Peppers on third down, this year.
Expect the sack numbers to increase to double digits again. That will, in turn, bolster the Packers’ pass rush overall and thus, the defense. The Packers’ defensive success is predicated on one thing and that’s getting to the quarterback.
Since drafting Jones in the first round in 2013, the Packers have gotten next to nothing from their investment. He has just eight career sacks.
The Packers decided to move Jones to outside linebacker during the 2015 season. Jones’ playing time was very limited, but when he did get on the field, he did have some moments. With Jones, it’s really about potential and opportunity.
On one hand, he already looks better as an outside linebacker than he ever did as a defensive end in the Packers’ scheme. A full offseason learning the nuances of the position should only improve his chances of contributing.
On the other hand, Jones is in a logjam at the outside linebacker position. He has Matthews and Peppers ahead of him and Nick Perry, Jayrone Elliott and rookie Kyler Fackrell all competing for rotation snaps with him.
We fully expect to see an improved Datone Jones in 2016, but with all of that talent at outside linebacker, will it even matter? Snaps are going to be hard to come by, so Jones will have to make a showing with whatever scraps he’s given.
We could certainly see him improving on 2015, though. Jones had what could be considered a modest career year, with 20 tackles and three sacks. If Jones can get on the field enough, we can see him turning in five or six sacks, this season.
That’s a nice number for a backup.
Yes, here’s your wild card. While we fully expect David Bakhtiari to remain at left tackle in 2016, but the Packers didn’t draft Jason Spriggs in the second round to sit around forever.
If Spriggs doesn’t take Bakhtiari’s job at some point this season, it’s almost certain he’ll take it next season. It’s unclear if Bakhtiari will even be re-signed, since he’ll be a free agent after the 2016 campaign.
So why is he on this list?
There was a rumor before the draft that the Packers were likely going after a left tackle. That rumor was predicated on the fact that they viewed Bakhtiari as a better guard than a tackle. Whether that’s the case remains to be seen, but Bakhtiari has had his struggles.
He’s never played guard. So even though we don’t expect a definitive position change, it will be interesting to see if the Packers start using Bakhtiari at guard during the offseason.
The time to start watching begins now.