Will Inside Linebacker Be Last Year’s Safety?

Ted Thompson did some very good things in the 2014 NFL Draft, but it is the one thing that he didn’t do that could prove detrimental to the Packers’ Super Bowl chances.

Last year, Thompson didn’t address the safety position during the offseason, which was clearly a glaring need. The result was terrible, as the Packers were the only team in the NFL not to get an interception from their safeties.

Thompson addressed the safety position in the first round of the NFL Draft last week by selecting Ha Ha Clinton-Dix out of Alabama with the 21st overall pick.  However, Thompson failed to draft an inside linebacker for the second year in a row. It was a need entering last season, and it’s still a huge need.

In Thompson’s defense, it was not a very deep crop of  inside linebackers in this year’s draft class. After Ryan Shazier was taken by Pittsburgh and C.J. Mosley was taken by Baltimore there were not a lot of appealing options to pick from. Chirs Borland and Preston Brown were taken before Green Bay’s selection in the third round, and neither of them were guaranteed to be upgrades over A.J. Hawk or Brad Jones anyways.

Thompson’s big mistake was putting himself in this situation to begin with with the contracts he gave to Hawk and Jones. He signed Jones to a 3-year, $11 million deal in 2013 and Hawk to a five-year, $$33.75 million deal before the 2011 season, which eventually got restructured. They were two of the worst contracts he has ever given out.

The middle of the defense has been a hot spot of trouble for the Packers’ defense for years. The only time they defended the middle of the field well was when Nick Collins and Desmond Bishop were on the field together at their peak. It was not a coincidence that they also won the Super Bowl that season.

The Packers hope that they have found their replacement for Collins in Clinton-Dix. Clinton-Dix does not have the speed that Collins had, but he has the instincts and range to play deep center field.

That should help the Packers eliminate some of the big plays over the top of their defense, which have burned them many times in the past. However, Clinton-Dix will not be be able to cover the intermediate level of the field if he is playing deep safety. The Packers have let teams run wild in that area of the field for years.

Hawk’s coverage limitations have been obvious for years and Jones’ specialty is supposed to be his ability to play coverage, but he had an awful season last year. It would be one thing if the duo took charge in the run game, but neither are big hitters either. Thus, the Packers rarely are able to force turnovers from their inside linebackers.

Shazier or Mosley would have been just what the doctor ordered. Shazier’s 4.36 speed and athleticism would have been a huge addition. Mosley is a three down linebacker with great coverage skills and instincts in the run game. Hawk and Jones are not three down linebackers at this point.

The Packers have great talent on the outer edges of their defense.  Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Casey Heyward, Micah Hyde, Davon House and Jarrett Bush are one of the deepest corner groups in the NFL. Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Nick Perry, Mike Neal, and Carl Bradford form a talented, deep and versatile outside linebacker group.

However, it may all be for nothing if the cannot defend the middle of the field because of their weakness at inside linebacker.

 

 

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Matt Bove is a writer at PackersTalk.com. PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on twitter at @RayRobert9.

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  • Ross Uglem

    2 things: first Chris Borland is absolutely better than Brad Jones. Secondly, I think this is an OK problem to have. Honestly, I think if I were to pick a unit in this defense to be the weakest I would pick inside linebacker. You can get into less trouble having bad inside linebacker play than bad corner play, bad line play or certainly bad safety play. I honestly think that the only immediate starters were Mosley, Shazier and Borland and we decided to take Davante Adams over Borland.

  • AGREED! WE CERTAINLY OVER DID WR! OFFENSIVE LINE COULD HAVE USED A BOOST TOO!

    • Ross Uglem

      I can’t go so far as to say that we “over did” it on WR. Each player, when they were selected, represented tremendous value, and as of right now neither Jordy Nelson nor Randall Cobb is under contract for 2015. As far as OLine is concerned I really can’t go with you there. The only position in question (center) was addressed by a top 5 option at that position (I had Linsley right behind Swanson, Martin, Richburg and Stork). In 2013 Sitton and Lang were either the best or second best guard tandem in the league (behind Philadelphia) and neither tackle position is really up for debate. Bryan Bulaga is the starting right tackle and the left tackle position is going to be manned by either David Bakhtiari or Derek Sherrod.

    • Scott

      Chill with the CAPS bro.

  • Icebowler

    I hope they just start Bradford out at ILB, rather than waiting till he fails at OLB, like B. Jones and Lattimore.

  • John Zoul

    Inside Linebacker, as we speak, is our weakest position on defense. Neither Hawk nor Brad Jones would even make San Fran’s 53-man roster. Lastly, this is a make or break year for Morgan Burnett, as well as Raji, Hawk, and Jones.

  • Kuba

    You forgot about Sam Barrington!

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