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Cory's Corner: Outside linebacker isn't a strength

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Cory's Corner: Outside linebacker isn't a strength

Let’s face it, the Packers’ defense got humiliated last year. And with Green Bay’s 98th season underway, its most prized free agent acquisition was an offensive player.

And oddly enough, Mike McCarthy speaks volumes about his outside linebackers.

“Feel good about the depth at outside linebacker,” McCarthy said as he enters his 12th season as the head football coach of the Packers before training camp started on Thursday. “This is probably as good (of) depth as we’ve had there in some time. I think you’ll really see some of our guys jump out in training camp as we get the pads on.”

Really Mike? I cannot believe you said that with a straight face because outside linebacker is going to be the team’s biggest question mark. There’s a reason that USA Today has ranked the Packers linebackers unit 22nd in the NFL, five spots behind the Bears and one spot ahead of the Vikings.

And that has to do with uncertainty. Last year was the first year that Nick Perry started more than six games in his career and he got rewarded with a 5-year, $59 million deal this past offseason. Clay Matthews is just the opposite. Last year was the first year that he tallied less than double-digit starts in his career. And to make matters worse, Matthews has had a nagging hamstring injury that will likely cost him time this season. 

Those two are supposed to be the dynamic talent on defense and they’re just questions that are hard to answer.

The deeper you get on the depth chart, the answers don’t become any clearer. Just who is Kyler Fackrell? The thick Utah State kid only saw a whisper of playing time as a rookie last year, playing only 15 percent of the defensive snaps. Jayrone Elliott is a middling player that lacks the necessary burst on the outside — and he played even less than Fackrell last year.

“I think the biggest thing is our front two guys being able to stay healthy and I think right now Kyler and Jayrone, we feel good about their ability to go in and play,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “One of the things you’ve seen us do at that position is rotate guys a lot and try to keep guys fresh in terms of rushing the passer. I think we’ve got pretty good depth at that position, to tell you the truth. We’ve been thinner than what we are now.”

After those four names you get to rookie Vince Biegel. He was a great find in the fourth round last spring but his injury history is quite extensive. Last fall, he had a screw inserted into his cracked right foot and in rookie camp this past May he suffered a Jones fracture — the same injury he needed a screw for last year. Biegel’s energy is contagious, but how bubbly is he going to be if he continues to struggle to stay on the field? Judging from the first day of camp, the answer is no as he was placed on the PUP list. 

The reason this is all bad news is because the secondary was exposed because the front seven couldn’t generate a consistent pass rush. Too many opposing quarterbacks got comfortable.

McCarthy and Capers both feel this unit is ready for a season that will see Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan, Dak Prescott, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Jameis Winston and Cam Newton. That’s a murder’s row for an outside linebacker. It’s filled with quarterbacks that extend plays and quarterbacks that can move the chains with their legs.

For all of the attention that Martellus Bennett gets for taking pressure off of his fellow wideouts this year, a successful Packers’ season will be determined by this outside linebacker group.

Any long-term injuries to this unit will have devastating effects on goals that are zeroed in home field advantage in the NFC playoffs and the first Lombardi Trophy since 2010.


Cory Jennerjohn is a graduate from UW-Oshkosh and has been in sports media for over 15 years. He was a co-host on "Clubhouse Live" and has also done various radio and TV work as well. He has written for newspapers, magazines and websites. He currently is a columnist for CHTV and also does various podcasts. He recently earned his Masters degree from the University of Iowa. He can be found on Twitter: @Coryjennerjohn

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (39) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

EddieLeeIvory's picture

Capers better play Mike Daniels a helluva lot more than 16% of 3rd down snaps like last year.

Drafting OLBs is guessy. Remember Clay being drafted in 09. Everett someone from Florida St went before him. Bust. Aaron Maybin was a top 10 pick. Bust.

That's why New England adds via trade, or signs so many NFL free agents, guys like Mike Vabrel (8-year starter incl 2007 All-Pro nod), Rodney Harrison, Jabaal Sheard, Shea McClellin, Chris Long, Alan Branch, Patrick Chung, Junior Seau (2006-2009), Rob Ninkovich, Dion Lewis, Wes Walker, Martellus Bennett, Chris Hogan, Darrelle Revis, Stephon Gilmore, Lawrence Guy (Teddy drafted him), Dwayne Allen, Brandin Cooks, Kony Ealy, etc.

They still draft, it they really supplement their roster with guys with NFL Film already. It's much less risky than just basing players off college film.

What OLB's has Thompson added with NFL experience in the last 5 seasons outside of college kids? What corners? House and who?

carusotrap's picture

It all starts with the cosmic dogma that Clay HAS TO BE AN OUTSIDE LINEBACKER. (Emphasis, media and team) Nevermind that the season he played inside was his most productive in forever. So, you assemble personnel based on not hurting someone's feelings or some other nonsense, and you're left with what we've got.

I really thought Ted and company did a great job in FA this year, but this CLAY PLAYS OLB thing is actually at the heart of the D problem.

pooch's picture

His hammies are to fragile for outside,sure play him on outside but he will play 6 games other 10 sitting injured

chugwater's picture

The one player who has me stumped is Elliott. He's made a couple plays in games over the past several years, but for whatever reason just hasn't earned the right to get any appreciable playing time...until now. Maybe he's matured some to the point where coaches think he will produce this year, but from the outside looking in I'm very concerned about having him as a key cog in the OLB machine.

J0hn Denver's Gavel's picture

I'm mostly worried about Elliott's ability to set the edge in the run game. I think he'll be an OK pass rusher, with the potential to be more than serviceable in that facet.

nostradanus's picture

R.E.L.A.X. Cory, these are the first few days of training camp laddie. You and all of us watching from the cheap seats have nary a real clue of how certain players such as Fackrell or Elliott are viewed by the Packers brass. Maybe they didn't get their chance because Peppers and Datone (being a former first rounder) were just higher in the pecking order. This is the Packers M.O. under the White hair's leadership, cull the herd and let the new studs emerge. It's worked pretty well so far. Who knows? Fackrell showed some pass rush in his rookie season as did Elliott in the past few seasons/pre-seasons. I have a feeling they are very high on Reggie Gilbert and of course everybody in cheese-land is geeked about "the Biegel". Another guy thats flying under the radar is Johnathan Calvin whom I expect to be in the pipeline as another of Teddie's UDFA gems and will most likely make the practice team while he learns the ropes.
I am expecting great things from this group as the season progresses. One thing about Big Mike, he's a straight shooter and when he makes a statement like that there is usually some substance behind it.
You must believe lad.
NostraDANus "the optimistic Packers mystic"

pooch's picture

Ok enough about Datone,he is no big loss ,closer to a bust at rd #1

Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

No offense Dan, but these hyper-positive posts from you are so one-note and devoid of balance that they lack any value whatsoever.

GoPackGo GoPackGo's picture

I couldn't have said it better. Stop panicking over stupid unknowns. Trust that the guys that have managed to will us to 8 consecutive playoff appearance know what they are doing. Did you really expect Fackrell and Elliot to start over Peppers and Jones? Is it possible that Ted and company may have thought that Fackrell and Elliot have made the leap, while letting Jones and Peppers go? Just maybe?

GoPackGo GoPackGo's picture


Thegreatreynoldo's picture

No, I don't. I think TT and the coaches get an inkling of which players might have made a jump in OTAs and Minicamp, maybe even during workouts, but I don't think they really know until pads come on. That is long after they make decisions on Datone and Peppers, Lang and Hyde.

J0hn Denver's Gavel's picture

A+ thread title

calabasa's picture

one too many words. No need for "outside".

4thand1's picture

Offense or defense , pick your poison. You can't have both, you can only hope for one to be good enough to get by. The Packers should be playing with a lead most of the time, so they'll have a great run defense,yippie, because teams won't run. They will be defending the pass in a pass happy league. They will have to make a big play or two to win a lot of close high scoring games.

Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture


GBPDAN1's picture

Once again, thanks Ted. Thanks for always having a glaring hole somewhere on the team that prevents them from winning another Super bowl. I couldn't agree more with this article. We all remember the embarrassment of no pressure in the Atlanta game, so what does Ted do about? The position seems worse then last year. Why is Ted's mouth always hanging open when I see him on TV?

J0hn Denver's Gavel's picture

It's kind of hard to not leave holes in the starting lineup or go with thin positional depth when our GM doesn't spend 10%+ of his allocated salary cap. I know the reasons why Ted isn't spending all available funds are complicated, but $18+ million could fix quite a few of these perceived talent based- depth chart holes.

The TKstinator's picture

I'm not nearly as familiar with any other team as I am with GB. I think it stands to reason that other teams have holes too, I just don't know what they are. Yes, some team wins the SB every year but I would venture to say that even the SB winner has holes somewhere.
Unless it's NE. That team is perfect.
PS I hate it when TT's mouth hangs open too. Add a baseball cap on backwards to that look and I bet people would be offering him free soup.

Arrow Up's picture

Really Cory? The LB position has had many changes going into 2017. Losing vets and having young guys stepping in to fill their shoes. We won't know if the position is a strength or weakness until middle to end of season, after they have had significant time together. I believe as long as health allows, Fackrell, Biegel, Elliott and Gilbert should all be good contributors.
I trust the coaches wouldn't keep those guys around for decoration, they are convinced they are ready. We have seen Elliott shine in preseason games which shows he has talent and having been in the system for 3 plus seasons, should be ready to hit the ground running. I believe (health) by seasons end this defense will be surprising a LOT of teams. Have faith!

GBPDAN1's picture

Elliott shined in a couple of preseason games were he went up against inferior tackles who are either no longer in the NFL or are buried deep on a roster

chugwater's picture

The thing about Elliott is he has shown brief glimpses of playmaking in the past. In the Seattle game a few years ago he had a pick and fumble at critical junctures in the game. But then why was he not able to parlay that into more playing time? That's the conundrum with Elliott.

We will find out this year who Elliott the player really is.

Nick Perry's picture

I wouldn't expect McCarthy to show anything other than optimism and support towards any position on his football team. What else is going to say? I mean really, what else would you EXPECT him to say??

Personally I like it. I like McCarthy is telling the public he has faith in his OLB group. These guys know what the fans are saying, and McCarthy is telling everybody (true or not) that he's got a deep group at the position. He's got 2 or 3 guys when Biegel gets back that have to account for the 1100 plus snaps Peppers and Jones played on defense, and that's without the 300 plus they played on ST. That's a hell of a lot of snaps to throw on the laps of 2 guys that have hardly played. But Frackrell will replace Peppers production without a problem IMO. The guy is made for the OLB position. I think he'll surpass the 7.5 sacks Peppers had last season.

Biegel is the "Wildcard" here IMO. If they can get him back without having to start the season on the PUP List, they just may have just enough to get by. Capers is going to have to be at his creative best this year. Ryan played OLB at Michigan so don't be surprised to see more of Ryan blitzing just like Desmond Bishop was used in 2011 when he had 5 sacks.

Bearmeat's picture

Lots of optimism here NP.

Personally, I don't see a reason for optimism. I see two starters who are regularly hurt, and a whole lot of question marks behind them.

If you're not right and Fackrell doesn't pick up Peppers slack plus some, and Elliot doesn't all of a sudden grow up, and maybe even Biegel plays well in a rotation, this team is in serious trouble against top 10 QBs.

I read that the offense absolutely shredded the D today. This is not surprising.

Tarynfor12's picture


Bearmeat's picture

That literally made me LOL Taryn. :)

Nick Perry's picture

What are you going to say if Perry has another 11 sack season and continues to be one of the better OLB's against the run in the NFL?

LayingTheLawe's picture

The Packers have two established starters at outside linebacker and then some backups they are hopeful for. For sure they need someone out of Fackrell, Elliott, and Biegel to have some good consistent play.

The Packers defense was a conundrum last year. We who watched it know how terrible it was. They were a turnstile just letting any team go by on their way to a score. But by statistics they had 40 sacks and 17 interceptions both at the top end of the league. What this says about the talent and coaching we will have to see by how they adjust this year I guess.

Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

Those stats come purely from the amount of passing done by our opponents.

Ferrari Driver's picture

I will agree that the entire linebacking corps is average at best and an injury or two to the wrong players and they will be in trouble.

However, if the defense can perform as the 15-20 best in the league, the Packers powerful offense will play well enough and control the ball long enough on drives that the team will have a very good chance to play in this year's Super Bowl.

Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

League-wide, I put our LB group as a 2 on the scale of 1-10. Maybe a 3 if we include Jones. Maybe.

Our best LB's are severe injury risks, and our weaker LB's would be cut from other rosters.

That's called "truth," people. Deal with it.

Slade's picture

You're funny! Calling your OPINION "truth" doesn't make it so, and hence, no need to "deal" with it. Thanks for the instructions, though. They may come in handy somewhere down the road :D

JohnnyLogan's picture

You need an elite pass rusher in today's game, someone the other team has to double team regularly. Not sure we have one. Clay gets stood up and pushed around by tackles. Perry had a damn good year, but is not elite or has to be double teamed. The rest are all question marks, with none having the kind of history that yells elite. I like drafting King, but would have taken Watt. TT could also have paid for the best pass rusher in FA, I don't know who that would have been, but it was a need. It's way way too early to know anything, but this doesn't feel like a top ten D. Hope I'm wrong.

JohnnyLogan's picture

Oh, forgot to add in that Capers is a bum and it only makes things look worse. Can't wait til he's gone.

Since '61's picture

Cory - "OLB isn't a strength". It's good to see that you still have your flair for the obvious. Not only is it not a strength but it's only an inevitable CM3 hamstring injury and a Perry injured anything from becoming a disaster like last season at CB and 2013 at safety and the last 4 seasons at TE until Cook was healthy. If Perry and CM3 go down at the same time we're pretty much done on the edge. Even with just CM3 down last season Perry disappeared to the point where he might as well have been injured. BTW, our ILB group is not a strength either and that's without anyone being injured. I realize we're expecting Burnett and Jones to play hybrid roles in certain situations but they can't be expected to carry a full ILB load if 2 out of 3 ILBs go down. We're thin at the LB position group across the field. Even with all the starters healthy there ain't no Dave Robinsons or Nitschkes in the current group. If our DL doesn't absorb some blockers this group will be crushed. I am glad MM likes the depth on this group. I guess he has no choice. As for Capers he clueless as usual. Thanks, Since '61

Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

Preach it, '61. Preach it.

croatpackfan's picture

Oh, no, we are f***ed! Again, and again. And TC just started. Season is month away. We already knows that Nick Perry and Clay Matthews will be injured, as well as Vince Biegel! Bravo.
I read something few days ago: "Prediction is difficult, particularly when it involves future..."
But for you, and many, it is piece of cake to predict the future...

A Pickled Packer's picture

Will we regret not drafting TJ Watt

dobber's picture

Will we be thankful for drafting Kevin King?

flackcatcher's picture

Oh lord, and preseason hasn't even started yet. The reality is that the NFL rules don't make either LB position critical. I hate that this is now a pass happy league. Sometimes I think the NFL should issue flags for everyone, and be done with it. Given the way the packers drafted and signed, I expect at some point we'll see 7 DBs on the field in some kind of super deluxe big okie package. Joy.

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