After a number of missed draft picks and a refusal to utilize free agency as a remedy for roster issues, this Green Bay Packers roster under former General Manager Ted Thompson became depleted and void of playmakers over his final seasons at the helm.
However, since Brian Gutekunst has taken over, we have seen quite a few changes in Titletown and it would appear that the roster is much better off because of a majority of these moves.
In just his second offseason as GM, Gutekunst has already overhauled the cornerback, safety and EDGE rusher positions, along with adding key players to the offensive line, tight end and receiver positions to name a few.
Yet amongst all of these changes, perhaps the biggest question mark moving forward for this Green Bay Packers team is at inside linebacker.
We all know about the super reliable Blake Martinez who is rarely going to be found out of position and over the last two seasons has racked up a whopping 286 total tackles, 20 of which were for a loss, along with eight quarterback hits, six sacks, and 11 pass deflections. Martinez is the exact type of player you want quarterbacking your defense.
But as we work our way down the depth chart, we run into some unknowns. The Green Bay Packers traded up in last year’s draft to snag Oren Burks who had a rough rookie season as he continues to transition from a safety at Vanderbilt to inside linebacker.
After missing the first two games of last season Burks would struggle to get back on track and over the remaining 14, he would total just 24 tackles and leave the rest of the stat sheet empty.
Perhaps what is most concerning is that he would play in only 11.47 percent of total defensive snaps in 2018. Even when the Packers were out of playoff contention that final month of the season, Burks still saw little playing time.
His issues with his coverage assignments as well as diagnosing plays were two reasons that defensive coordinator Mike Pettine couldn’t trust to put him on the field. Given the current construction of the inside linebacker position, the Packers aren’t just hoping that Burks makes a year two jump, but at this point, they need him to.
The other two likely options this season would be James Crawford, who was a special teams standout in 2018 but we don’t know yet whether he can be relied upon during games as a rotational option at linebacker.
Then we have this year’s seventh-round pick Ty Summers, who is once again a fantastic athlete like most Gutekunst draft picks, but Green Bay doesn’t want to have to count on a rookie seventh-rounder to play significant minutes.
Now, what really comes as a blow to the linebacker position and this Packers team is the potential that Josh Jones could be with another team in 2019.
While he has struggled as a safety, the additions of Darnell Savage and Adrian Amos would have allowed Pettine to use Jones more as a box defender in a hybrid linebacker role, which is a far better use of his skill set.
Back in Jones’ rookie season in 2017, we saw what a playmaker he can be when given the opportunity to play closer to the line of scrimmage. In week three against Cincinnati, Jones would record 11 solo tackles, including three for a loss, along with two sacks and two more quarterback hits.
Although it may be easy for some to scoff at Jones demanding a trade, there will be a negative trickle-down effect if the Packers do lose him, and it will occur primarily at the linebacker position where he was likely going to play a much bigger role.
In Gutekunst’s short tenure as GM, he has shown that he has no tolerance for locker room distractions. Ty Montgomery, Haha Clinton-Dix and Damarious Randall have all been traded, and I expect the same fate for Josh Jones.
This means that the Packers should bring in another linebacker from the free agency pool to create some competition this summer and hopefully find a trusted option that can add some reliable depth at a position that still remains a question mark.