There’s Movement at Inside Linebacker
It’s been a long while, so it was good to see Sam Barrington back in action for the Green Bay Packers on Thursday. Barrington’s 2015 season was a washout, as he went on injured reserve following a foot injury in the very first game of the year. Barrington had one tackle — for a loss — on Thursday against the Raiders. His chief challenge is to stay healthy — he’s only played in 22 games in three years — he’s been a starter in eight of them. At 6’1” and 240 pounds, he is a mid-sized linebacker.
It’s easy to forget that Jake Ryan started seven games last year, including the postseason. That’s because he’s been sitting so far this preseason, resting a hamstring injury. He also missed games last year due to a hamstring injury that occurred in September.
While these two inside linebackers currently stand atop the depth chart, others are eager to supplant them.
Many observers have speculated that fourth-round draft choice Blake Martinez will move into the starting lineup during the course of the season. Though Blake’s first preseason game was auspicious, mostly because of his missed tackle of Browns running back Duke Johnson, in Thursday’s contest against the Raiders he looked very solid. He recorded five tackles and he was always around the action.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers already has Martinez relaying the defensive calls. He’s drawn praise for his pass defense and for picking up the Packers’ formations and schemes so quickly. On Thursday, he gave every indication of being the tackling machine the Packers have needed in the defensive interior.
The prediction here is that Martinez will be a starter in the season opener in three weeks. If so, that would be quite phenomenal for a fourth rounder — and maybe unprecedented for a Mike McCarthy-coached or Ted Thompson-managed team.
Two more players are pressing hard for playing time, if Barrington, Martinez or Ryan go down. The first is Carl Bradford, another fourth-round draft choice, now in his third year with the team. Just a month ago he was considered a long shot to make the final 53-player roster.
Instead, Bradford appears rejuvenated and motivated. Except for safety Kentrell Brice, he’s been the leading tackler, with a total of seven, in the Packers’ two preseason games to date. Bradford has been using his 6’1” 250-pound frame to jam blockers, penetrate into the backfield, and disrupt plays even when he’s not in on tackles. Bradford has stepped up this year as much as anyone on the roster.
The other somewhat-forgotten contender is Joe Thomas. In the past, Thomas has been undersized, playing at 227 pounds, but he put on weight in the offseason and you can see the difference. He’s having a great preseason, with six tackles, including two for loss, in the first two games. Thomas is a hard hitter and isn’t getting blown away in run defense like he was last year.
Inside linebacker will be one of the toughest decisions for the Packers when it comes to shaping their final roster. It now looks like five guys deserve a spot.
We have a strong feeling that Barrington and Martinez will be the opening-day starters. That decision may have something to do with Ryan’s hamstring injury.
Thomas and Bradford now appear to be more than capable fill-ins should someone get injured.
It may even be conceivable — if the Packers view this as an open competition — that even Thomas or Bradford could play their way into the week 1 starting lineup.
Their are two certainties at the moment. The competition is fierce and Ryan needs to get himself back on the field – soon!