Thursday Thoughts: Longshot Linebacker
Seven of the nine players drafted by the Packers last month have already been signed, and Eric Stokes and Amari Rodgers will almost certainly join them in the next few weeks. The current CBA is far from perfect, but standardizing all rookie contracts has made the months of June and July a lot less stressful for players, teams, and fans. It wasn’t too long ago when getting a high pick signed was headline news. Now, it’s just agate type under transactions. Here are three more Packers-related thoughts that went through my mind recently:
1) As I watched tape of Western Michigan running back LaVante Bellamy against Ball State prior to the 2020 draft, a safety for the Cardinals kept making plays. His name was Ray Wilborn, and lo and behold, he’s currently on the Packers’ 90-man roster. The 24-year-old, who spent time on the Steelers’ practice squad last season, is projected as a linebacker – the position he played as a junior. That versatility, along with impressive athleticism, makes Wilborn an intriguing long shot. He certainly has the size (6-3, 230) to play inside linebacker in the NFL, but he struggled to get off blocks in college. What he does best is cover. He has the hip flexibility to get good depth and the speed to close distances quickly. He reminds me of a much bigger version of Raven Greene, who stuck as an undrafted free agent and spent three seasons with the Packers. Because of the depth of the current roster, Wilborn will face even longer odds than Greene did in ’18, but he’s at the very least someone to keep an eye on.
In a game against Notre Dame from 2018, Wilborn (#11), who started at outside linebacker, is matched up against the slot receiver Chris Finke (#10). There’s nothing particularly special about this fourth-quarter interception, but the play does show his fluidity in space and his awareness in coverage.
2) While Aaron Rodgers frolics on a beach in Hawaii with fiancee Shailene Woodley, Matt LaFleur is busy expressing to all how he wants his disgruntled quarterback to return to the team in the “worst way.” Look, I understand why the coach, who’s apparently an innocent bystander in a feud between Rodgers and GM Brian Gutekunst, wants the MVP playing for Green Bay this season. Of course, he does. But I also understand that 89 other players are listening to every word he says. Instead of begging for Rodgers to show up and honor a $134 million contract signed less than three years ago, LaFleur – whether he believes it or not – should be exuding confidence in his ability to win with Jordan Love or anybody else under center. Heck, there are already enough people who think the third-year coach is only successful because of Rodgers. More importantly, the only things any of us should want in the “worst way” are good health for our families, the end of this pandemic, and world peace.
3) The best news to emerge from the start of Phase 2 of the offseason program is that Kingsley Keke is finally over the concussion that sidelined him for the entire playoffs. Everybody talks about how much the Packers missed left tackle David Bakhtiari in the NFC championship game against Tampa Bay – and they did – but they also really missed the second-year defensive lineman from Texas A &M who had 4 sacks and 16 hurries before getting hurt in week 15. Quarterback and human statue Tom Brady hates pressure up the middle, and without Keke in the lineup, the Bucs were able to focus even more on slowing down Kenny Clark. As for the upcoming season, new defensive coordinator Joe Barry will be counting on Keke, who’s about 15 pounds heavier since being drafted in ’19, to improve as much from year 2 to 3 as he did from year 1 to 2. If that occurs, the curious choice by Gutekunst to pretty much maintain the status quo on the D-line might not come back to haunt the Packers.
–photo courtesy of packers.com