3 Burning Questions: Linebackers

Needing to develop a solid depth chart at the position of linebacker, the Green Bay Packers have been seeing consistent play throughout training camp and their first preseason game. While the season is only in its infant stages, there is a ton to be excited about.

Outside of Blake Martinez, the team’s linebacker ranks are sure to be very fluid in 2019. With both Preston and Za’Darius Smith looking like they’ll be playing both linebacker and defensive linemen, it opens up the flexibility for schemes under Mike Pettine. 

Rookies like Ty Summers and Curtis Bolton have filled in admirably with the pectoral injury to Oren Burks, but which player truly looks to be in line to earn starting snaps in place of Burks?

Who deserves snaps in place of the injured Oren Burks?

In a short answer, Bolton has received a ton of attention for his play, thus earning him first-team snaps in practice after Burks’ injury. While not posting the stat line of 10 tackles like Summers did, his play against the Houston Texans was very stout and surprising for the Oklahoma rookie.

Bolton cannot and will not be called upon to take all the snaps in lieu of Burks, dependant on the longevity of his recovery. Besides Bolton, Summers has played his way into the conversation, as well as James Crawford, and due to schematic elements, Josh Jones and Raven Greene both can become the in-the-box safety that doubles as a linebacker, taking the spot of Bolton on the field.

With this team needing to find some sort of consistency next to tackling machine Martinez, both Bolton and Summers look to be well on their way to earning that role. While both seem to be a bit limited in pass coverage, both have the field general look to them and they seek out the ball instead of waiting for the play to come to them.

Who can be this year’s Kyler Fackrell?

Earning his newly-signed contract after leading the team with 10.5 sacks in 2018, Kyler Fackrell looks to be one of the more trusted pass rushers for this season. Needing to create better pressure as an overall unit this season, there will need to be other players besides Fackrell that make a difference on the defense’s second level.

Reggie Gilbert was a starlet in last year’s preseason, but he was not able to replicate a ton of that impressive performance in the regular season, making 27 tackles and 2.5 sacks across all 16 games. He again has been impressive this preseason, and may be called upon during the regular season in a role to help spell the first-team pass rushers.

Besides Gilbert, Rashan Gary and second-year pro Crawford could all be in line for a substantial snap load in 2019. Needing to be able to spell the Smiths and others on the defensive line will be the key to helping the linebacker unit become more successful, and with positional flexibility running rampant throughout the league, that theme is very prevalent in Green Bay as well.

What type of player can Ty Summers be in 2019?

Profiling similar to former Packer Jake Ryan, Summers is a smart, strong backer who understands the importance of keeping a low pad level and passing off assignments on the fly. In the game against the Texans, there were a few instances of Summers passing off a running back route to Crawford or a fellow ‘backer so he could pursue the quarterback who was fleeing the pocket.

Being able to diagnose that type of play on the fly as a rookie is super impressive, and the seventh-round selection from TCU has shown from day one that his motor and his smarts do not define his draft position. The former QB who switched to linebacker at TCU has been a standout for this team, drawing public praise from the coaching staff and cementing himself as a solid role player who could become a key contributor as the season rolls around.

While selling him a bit short with the Ryan comparison, Summers is not on the level of Martinez – yet. His knowledge of the game is still way too low to even begin that conversation, and while Summers projects as being a similar style of a player, his coverage skills need to improve a bit.

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Mike Johrendt has been an avid fan of the Packers ever since he can remember. He is now a writer at PackersTalk and you can follow him on Twitter at @MJohrendt23

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