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Inside Linebackers Are Dead

The writing is on the wall. It was probably there during the Green Bay Packers’ 2016 season: inside linebackers are dead.

We have long discussed the devaluation of the position in Green Bay. We complained when the Packers refused to draft a playmaking inside linebacker high in the draft. We complained when they passed on free agents like Danny Trevathan.

But maybe the Packers were just ahead of the curve.

They drafted Blake Martinez in 2016 to be a coverage linebacker, but he didn’t really own that role. Instead, the Packers ended up playing the undersized Joe Thomas almost exclusively down the stretch.

Thomas is decent in coverage, but can be exposed in the running game. He gets eaten up by blockers and isn’t a great tackler, something inside backers are known for.

Similarly, the Packers also used safety Morgan Burnett as an inside linebacker late in the 2016 season. In that package, they brought in Kentrell Brice at safety next to Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

And now they’ve drafted Josh Jones, a safety from North Carolina State they immediately had running with the inside linebackers.

All of this says one thing.

The Packers care more about defending the pass than they do stopping the run.

And if you ask anyone, the NFL is a passing league. The Packers play their nickel defense more often than they do their base defense.

That means one of the Packers’ two traditional middle linebackers isn’t on the field more often than not. And now, it appears they’ll be on the field even less.

Of the current group, Jake Ryan is the best run defender. But what will that get you? One-third of the defensive snaps?

As we’ve mentioned before, Ryan isn’t a playmaker. He hasn’t had a sack, an interception or a forced fumble in his first two seasons.

Thomas is a liability in every other area besides coverage.

Martinez is still an unknown at this point.

The Packers would be best served by putting Clay Matthews back at inside linebacker. He can be a playmaker there and he’s solid in coverage, but their current lack of a pass rush likely dictates that he’ll stay outside.

So that leaves us with the hybrid safety/linebacker role.

If the hype on Josh Jones is legit — and we hope it is — then he could change the way the Packers’ defense plays. The Morgan Burnett experiment suggests that has already happened.

But with Jones, the Packers have a bigger, faster version of Burnett.

Dom Capers’ defense definitely doesn’t evolve overnight. Hell, it hasn’t really evolved in 30 years, but it may be evolving now.

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Joseph Bonham

Joseph is a fiction writer when he isn't doing this. In his spare time he likes to do manly things like drink beer and procreate.

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6 Comments

  1. Empacador June 5, 2017

    I’d certainly like to know what the measure for “decent” in coverage is when it comes to Joe Thomas. Being in the vicinity of the receiver/on the TV screen as he is getting torched? He gets beat like a rented mule with the same frequency as the CBs do.

  2. PF4L June 5, 2017

    The defense is evolving now? I think i read that right. How about we just call it what it really is? Lets keep experimenting converting players out of their natural position. That’s how you fix bad draft picks. Lets convert Burnett, lets convert Jones. It’s funny in a sad way how a lot of our other past player conversions are no longer with the team. Or their cheap rookie contract is still being played out, as per usual, then shown the door. It’s a vicious cycle. But yea…the defense is now evolving i guess, lmao. Call it whatever you want. I call it a fucking mess. Good offensive teams will always find and exploit your weaknesses on defense, no matter how many band-aids you put on it.

  3. Cheese June 5, 2017

    Who needs real linebackers when you can replace them with “hybrid” players, or jack of all trades master of none. That’s pretty much the motto of this defense. They have lineman playing linebacker, safeties playing linebacker, safeties playing cornerback, tight ends playing linebacker (Havner), the D-line is always a cluster with guys like Raji out of position for the sake of “versatility.” Also known as Ted’s too cheap to fill the position with anyone other than an UDFA. I’m surprised anyone on this defense knows what they’re doing at a competent level.

    1. Cheese June 5, 2017

      I shit you not, after writing this post I came across an article titled “Packers Defense: Versatility the Key” with the subtitle of “How important is Josh Jones to the #Packers “new” defense?”

  4. KILLER June 5, 2017

    You have a WR playing RB. (Montgomery)
    You had a NT playing DE. (Raji)
    You have a safety playing cornerback. (Randall)
    You have some safeties playing ILB? (Jones and Burnett?)
    You have an ILB playing OLB… or is it an OLB playing ILB? (Matthews) (Or is he even “playing” at all without that PED sustenance?)
    A basketball payer playing cornerback. (Rollins)
    A TE playing LB? (Havner)
    A bus driver playing Guard? (Barclay)
    A 4-3 DE first playing 3-4 DE and then, gasp, moved to OLB, said move, gasp, not working out? (Datone Jones)
    And
    Finally
    A homosexual QB playing at being a heterosexual QB….

    1. Savage57 June 6, 2017

      You have a retard making comments. (Killer)