Over the course of the next several days Cheesehead TV will have a brief position-by-position offseason preview, taking a look at what's in store for the Green Bay Packers in free agency and the NFL Draft..
It's not as if A.J. Hawk played at an All-Pro level in 2013, but he put together a good, solid year for the Packers, having his best season since at least 2010, maybe better.
Those impact plays that had been missing for so long from Hawk started to appear this past season: a career-high five sacks, an interception and his first forced fumble since 2007. Sure, Pro Bowl caliber linebackers put up even better numbers than that, but the Packers can get by with Hawk considering he always seems to stay injury-free, and he's one of the best leaders on the defensive side of the football.
It's more important the Packers get better play from the spot opposite Hawk after getting subpar production from Brad Jones in 2013.
Of course, injuries didn't help. Jones got off to a good start the first month of the season, but then hamstring and ankle injuries impacted his effectiveness down the stretch.
Jamari Lattimore provided surprisingly solid play when Jones was out of the lineup, but his inexperience showed, too frequently being out of position. He figures to only get better if he can improve upon the mental part of his game.
Two other inside linebackers on the Packers roster had their seasons ended by injuries: Sam Barrington with a pulled hamstring and Rob Francois with a torn Achilles.
Victor Aiyewa was signed late in the seasons when injuries struck but played strictly on special teams.
Long-Range Free Agency Preview
Robert Francois––Francois signed just a one-year contract prior to the 2013 season and he's already scheduled to hit free agency once again.
Prior to his injury, he was one of the Packers' special teams regulars and was a savvy backup as an inside linebacker, but the torn Achilles has put his future in doubt.
Because of injury, Francois doesn't figure to generate any interest on the free agent market, meaning he'll probably return to Green Bay or nowhere, but the Packers aren't prone to bring back injured fringe players, especially after their contracts have expired.
Last year they parted ways with Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith, and they had a whole lot more natural talent than Francois.
Long-Range NFL Draft Preview
The Packers are paying Hawk and Jones like starters, but they're not exactly getting a bang for their buck. They can and should strive to get better production from the position.
Inside linebackers have the ability to make a big impact on the performance of the defense, seeing as they're typically the leading tacklers on the team and around the football more than most other defenders.
A good inside linebacker can be the difference between making a tackle behind the line of scrimmage or six yards downfield.
There's one really good surefire first-round draft pick at the position in this year's draft, Alabama's C.J. Mosley, but it's debatable whether he'll be around by the Packers pick with the 21st overall draft choice.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].
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