Friday, July 20, 2012

The Packers 90-man Roster: Linebackers

The Green Bay Packers are bringing thirteen linebackers into training camp next month, so this has to be one of the biggest areas of competition on the roster based on size alone. Though they could keep as many as ten on the 53-man roster. Overall, this may be the best group of linebackers to play for the Packers since the early 1980s.
Player Height Weight Age Experience
Bishop, Desmond 6-2 238 27 6
Francois, Robert 6-2 255 27 3
Hawk, A.J. 6-1 247 28 7
Jones, Brad 6-3 242 26 4
Lattimore, Jamari 6-2 230 23 2
Manning, Terrell 6-2 237 22 Rookie
Matthews, Clay 6-3 255 26 4
Moses, Dezman 6-2 249 23 Rookie
Perry, Nick 6-3 265 22 Rookie
Smith, D.J. 5-11 239 23 2
So'oto, Vic 6-3 263 24 2
Walden, Erik 6-2 250 26 5
Zombo, Frank 6-3 254 25 3
Unless there's a big shake-up in training camp, it will be Bishop, Hawk, Matthews and Perry starting at linebacker. There should be no doubt about Bishop and Matthews, and while Hawk had a poor 2011 season, the coaches are publicly supporting him and I can't imagine they'd take away his starting job in training camp.

I don't believe the Packers would have drafted Perry in the 1st round if they didn't expect him to be good enough to start immediately. They might limit his snaps if he struggles in some situations, such as obvious rushing downs or on defensive calls when they need a linebacker to drop into pass coverage, but I expect he'll start one way or another.

While the Packers should keep six (or seven, if a linebacker is kept on the practice squad) of the remaining nine players listed, I have no idea who they might be. It all depends on whether they can stay healthy, and how they play this preseason.

Francois has been cut before, so he's not a lock. Jones has been in-and-out of favor for the past three seasons, he's been lining up inside this summer, and he'll need a strong camp to stay. Lattimore looked good last preseason, but he did little when he had a chance to play during the regular season. Smith might be the one sure thing among the backups, but a poor preseason could doom his chances too. So'oto followed an outstanding 2011 preseason with a MIA regular season due to injuries, and he did little when he was able to play. Walden received little interest in free agency, and despite his limitations as a pass rusher and in coverage, he's probably the best outside LB after Matthews and Perry. Zombo had a lost 2011 season due to multiple injuries, and he'll have to prove that he's healthy and productive. Overall, there's a lot of potential with the returning backups, but an awful lot of question marks too.

Finally, Manning and Moses are the other promising new additions. Manning looks like he could be a solid middle linebacker in coverage, and he could be a Brandon Chillar type of player. Moses has been the star of the OTAs, the undrafted player who's already earned some reps with the first team defense. It's very early in their careers, but so far so good.

Overall competition level: high. There are a lot of good players here, and at least one promising player or former starter is going to find himself released before the start of the regular season. The Packers needed to upgrade the position, and they've certainly done it.

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