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June 22, 2017

Positional Analysis: Inside Linebacker

This is the 12th of a 14-part series examining each position going into the offseason.

Starters (C-): Aside from Clay Matthews in 2014, Jake Ryan put together the best season by a Green Bay inside linebacker in years. That’s the good news. The not so good news is that the former Michigan star was still only a slightly above average player. It’ll be very interesting to see if he improves as much from year 2 to 3 as he did from year 1 to 2. Former undrafted free agent Joe Thomas ended the season ahead of fourth-round pick Blake Martinez. And while it won’t be Ali vs. Frazier, their battle in training camp should be pretty intense. Both players are intelligent and hard working. That said, neither should be starting on a good defense.

Depth (C-): The loser between Thomas and Martinez figures to be the top backup, unless GM Ted Thompson does the unthinkable and actually spends a day 2 pick at this position for the first time in over a decade. Journeyman Jordan Tripp was signed late last season and could return. He’s a decent athlete and a very good special teams player. Also around is undersized practice squadder Derrick Mathews. The former tackling machine from Houston flashed enough in camp to eventually earn a spot on the practice squad. 

Player to watch: The scouts raved about Martinez in the spring and the coaches did the same in the summer. While his play during the season didn’t live up to the hype, he did show potential between nagging injuries. The former Stanford star is very instinctive and nobody plays harder, but his average size and speed will always be an issue. He lacks ideal take-on strength and he’s stiff in pass coverage.

*Level of need: Depends entirely on who you ask. I, along with the majority of Packers fans, consider this to be a major area of concern. But Thompson and the defensive coaches seem just fine with the top three guys. And since both Matthews and safety Morgan Burnett are expected to see some action at inside linebacker in 2017, it’s hard to imagine any player of substance being added between now and the start of training camp in late July.


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13 Responses “Positional Analysis: Inside Linebacker”

  1. Ryan
    April 22, 2017 at 10:34 am

    Literally the least valuable position out of the 22 starters. They were 8th in the NFL against the run last year. TT and most smart teams don’t address this position with a high draft pick or over paid free agent. I remember a lot of TT haters crying about trevathan last off season……. yea he is still one of the top paid ILB in the league.

  2. Mitch
    April 22, 2017 at 10:47 am

    I bet Bill Belichick regrets drafting Donta Hightower in the first round and I’m sure Pete Carroll wishes he never gave Bobby Wagner that big contract. Oh, and Ozzie Newsome must kick himself for drafting C.J. Mosley 17th overall. But what do they know about building a good defense?

  3. Ryan
    April 22, 2017 at 11:07 am

    Congrats for naming the best ILB in the league…..I’m sure those teams would have easily won a super bowl without those guys………..

  4. Ray
    April 22, 2017 at 11:10 am

    Ryan, your premise that the position isn’t important is ridiculous. It’s only not important if the goal on defense is to be mediocre year after year.

  5. Mitch
    April 22, 2017 at 11:21 am

    Just about every defense in the top 10 last season had either a high draft pick or a highly-paid veteran at ILB. Players like Brian Cushing, Deone Bucannon, Eric Kendricks, Bobby Wagner, C.J. Mosley, Donta Hightower and Alex Ogletree.

  6. Ryan
    April 22, 2017 at 11:26 am

    Name a position that is more valuable than ILB………. you can’t

  7. Ryan
    April 22, 2017 at 11:29 am

    Mitch very lazy post…… the top ten defenses have many great players. Pretty sure Houston would be a top defense without Cushing. Pass rushers and cover guys are light years ahead of ILBs as far as importance goes

  8. Mitch
    April 22, 2017 at 11:31 am

    Every position is valuable, some more so than others. But when a GM deems one position on defense not valuable at all, he winds up with crappy defenses every season.

  9. Ryan
    April 22, 2017 at 11:36 am

    Two! That’s right 2 ILB taken in the first round the past 4 drafts and they both were one of the last picks in the first…… but yea they are so highly coveted and valuable.

  10. NP40
    April 22, 2017 at 11:48 am

    You really have to start wondering about a GM that is willing to gamble that two CB’s that have never proven anything {but were highly drafted} takes precedence over actually replacing Sam Shields with a solid veteran while having $30 million in cap space available. If he’s willing to do that then he’s certainly more than willing to ignore the coverage deficiencies in the middle of the field with our run-of-the-mill ILB’s.

    Maybe Clay and Burnett go to the middle more ? Who knows ? All I know is opposing teams can run the most basic high school swing passes in the flat or in the middle and gain huge yardage. To be fair, it almost looks like Dom’s scheme requires them NOT to cover RB’s going to the flat. It’s such a colossal schematic bowel movement that it’s very difficult to tell.

    The middle of the field has been an achilles heel for a decade yet everyone at 1265 has their fingers in the ears going “na, na, na, na, can’t hear you.”

  11. Ray
    April 22, 2017 at 11:50 am

    Talk about lazy. I count at least 5 ILBs taken in the first round of the past 4 drafts, but why let facts get in the way? And why only the first round? A ton of ILBs have been taken in the second round.

  12. Thorny
    April 22, 2017 at 1:16 pm

    I thought Martinez was a HUGE upgrade from AJ Hawk not that that’s high praise but I thought he could play. Thomas is a nice player, too. Sadly, we just seem to have too many players and position groups where you say they’re just okay to not okay.

    The crowd that says you can’t have stars at every position is correct but that doesn’t preclude you from being better than we are in a lot of places.

    When a slow 6th rounder in Desmond Bishop stands out as one of the better ILBs in the last decade that’s an issue but we’re just fans and not professionals so why complain? I just can’t wait for the day we have new professionals running the show that we should just blindly trust.

  13. TJV
    April 22, 2017 at 4:15 pm

    I think Thompson & Co. value ILBs like OGs: IOW as the least valuable positions on each side of the ball. Of course they had reason to pay to retain Sitton and Lang but look where they were drafted.

    I would have preferred Thompson signed a FA CB to take Shields’ spot rather than sign an ILB, but of course he did neither. Even after signing 4 FAs, I think Thompson is leaving too much up to draft (finding a difference maker on D this season) and develop (hoping like hell Randall, Rollins, and perhaps Fackrell, etc. improve a lot).

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