The three players vying for the starting right outside linebacker spot opposite Clay Matthews all have their individual strengths.
Frank Zombo is regarded by some as the best run defender, a stout player that can hold the edge. Erik Walden might have the quickest first step and be the fastest to the quarterback. Brad Jones is probably the most fluid of the three, the best in pass coverage and has the most experience in the system.
It’s not inconceivable that Dom Capers will institute some sort of platoon that will take advantage of all three players’ abilities in certain down and distances.
But that won’t happen if Walden has anything to say about it.
“Maybe, but being the greedy guy I am, I don’t want it like that,” said Walden. “I’m doing everything in my ability to conquer the spot, just allowing me to make plays and go out and contribute.”
The fourth-year player from Middle Tennessee State isn’t ready to concede anything just yet. To hear him speak, Walden has the tone of a man that wants to be a three-down player, not unlike Matthews.
And he’s not shying away from head-to-head-to-head battle he’s forging with Zombo and Jones each and every day at training camp.
“I don’t feel there’s no pressure,” said Walden. “It’s just football. It’s definitely great to have competition, but at the end of the day, I feel like the best man will prevail, and I feel that’s me. I’m just working hard, just trying to do what I can do to allow myself to be successful.”
With the elimination of two-a-day practices this training camp thanks to new collective bargaining agreement regulations and a preference of the Packers coaching staff, repetitions are at a premium for a guy like Walden who has less time to impress than summers past.
At the same time, he’s trying to take advantage of the classroom, walkthrough and correctional period sessions as much as possible and hopes it will translates to the field of play.
“Your margin of error is smaller being that you have all day to take in the mental process,” said Walden. “When you get out there, it should allow you to play full speed.”
The task in front of Walden will be to duplicate what made him the NFC’s Defensive Player of the Week in the regular season finale last season against the Chicago Bears that catapulted the Packers to a playoff berth and a run that would culminate in a Super Bowl victory.
Coming into that game Walden had accumulated 36 career tackles in three seasons as a journeyman that saw him go from the Kansas City Chiefs to the Miami Dolphins and finally to the Packers as a mid-season signee when injuries ended the seasons of Jones and Brady Poppinga.
Walden didn’t have any sacks prior to the Week 17 game against the Bears but still managed to sack Jay Cutler three times that day and rack up 12 total tackles on his way to player of the week honors.
The outside linebacker would start the following the first three games of the playoffs, but never had quite the same impact before injuring himself and giving way to Zombo to start the Super Bowl.
One challenge will be for Walden to become more consistent. Putting up 12 tackles and three sacks game in and game out is unrealistic, but just by becoming a reliable contributor, the Packers defense would benefit in 2011.
It starts in a game environment this Saturday, in the Packers’ preseason opener at Cleveland against the Browns, a game Walden is looking forward to.
“Absolutely,” said Walden. “We’re tired of beating up on each other. We’ve got one more work week left, then it’s Friday we take off, and then Saturday, we get into Cleveland and it’s game day.”