To start off with my inside linebacker preview, I will list off the players along with their number and experience.
#47 Jake Ryan (2)
#48 Joe Thomas (2)
#50 Blake Martinez (Rookie)
#54 Carl Bradford (2)
#58 Sam Barrington (4)
#42 *****Morgan Burnett (7)…I’ll get to this later
For a team that has two inside linebackers that start, and one starting off on the PUP list in training camp, this is not a very large group. With the move of Clay Matthews back to the outside full-time, the Packers are a team with four healthy inside linebackers, but all are (somewhat) capable. When Sam Barrington returns from injury, he will likely be a starter and a guaranteed lock to make the roster, especially since he is the most experienced. Most Packer fans, like myself, find that odd, as there used to be an A.J. Hawk, Desmond Bishop, or Nick Barnett in the middle. Now, the group is led by Barrington and second-year pro Jake Ryan, who moved into the starting lineup last season and finished with 50 tackles in 14 games. The Packers need him and Barrington to step up and take some pressure off of the safeties.
Assuming Barrington is not ready, rookie Blake Martinez is the likely one to receive most of the snaps. Martinez is a player with a nose for the football, and likely the best coverage inside linebacker on the team. He has been getting the majority of the snaps in practice, and should be a regular in games and possibly on special teams as well.
The fourth guy on this list is Joe Thomas, who was in camp last season, released, signed to the Dallas Cowboy’s practice squad, and then resigned by the Packers after injuries mounted. When he played, he was strictly the “dime” linebacker. Blake Martinez hopes to be that guy, as well as spell Barrington and Ryan, so Joe Thomas is likely to be redundant and solely a backup.
Finally, Carl Bradford has been a disappointment after a fourth-round selection a few years back, and he has yet to live up to expectations. Being the only guy who won’t make the team with a healthy Barrington, I think he will make it just as insurance in case of injury.
Even with the Barrington injury, I still don’t believe the Packers need Carl Bradford, because of two reasons: 1) Clay Matthews, despite not wanting to, is capable of playing inside in emergencies. 2) Morgan Burnett, the “linebacker” I conveniently left out so far, is actually one of the starting safeties. But, with Micah Hyde, Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, and of course Sam Shields and Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix in the secondary, the Packers are experimenting on playing Burnett as a dime and even sometimes nickel inside linebacker. It makes sense, as it boosts the coverage and speed of the unit, and the secondary is the strength of the defense (and maybe the team, excluding Aaron Rodgers of course), and inside linebacker is one of the weaknesses on this squad.
So, disregarding Morgan Burnett, as I will be covering him more (and counting him) with the secondary, the inside linebackers that I would pick to be on the Packers’ 2016-17 team are as follows: Sam Barrington (injured), Jake Ryan, Blake Martinez and Joe Thomas. There is a small possibility of Bradford, if he shows massive improvement and Barrington remains hurt, why not keep depth around?
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