Inside Linebacker Position Could Flourish Under Joe Barry

When Joe Barry was hired to replace Mike Pettine as Green Bay’s defensive coordinator, many wondered what a “Joe Barry” defense would look like. Pettine became notorious for a “bend don’t break” style of play which included plenty of dime (six defensive backs) defense. He also didn’t ask much of his inside linebackers. That’s likely to change under Barry. 

For starters, Barry’s background is extensive when it comes to linebackers, including playing inside linebacker in college at USC. While Barry has had previous stints as a defensive coordinator, both with the Detroit Lions and Washington Football Team, he most recently served as the Assistant Head Coach and linebackers coach for the Rams between 2017 and 2020. 

During his time in Los Angeles, Barry worked closely with Cory Littleton, a fan-favorite free agent prospect after the 2019 season. Littleton, an undrafted free agent in 2016, spent Barry’s first three seasons with him in Los Angeles from 2017 to 2019, making the Pro Bowl in 2018. In his final two seasons with the Rams, Littleton started all 32 regular season games, had five interceptions, 22 passes defensed, two forced fumbles, 7.5 sacks, and 259 total tackles. 

As recently as last season when the Packers boasted the league’s number one scoring offense, the Rams had the stoutest defense, ranking first overall in points against, allowing only 18.5 points per game. The inside linebackers on that Rams defense? Kenny Young, Micah Kiser, and Troy Reeder. Young was a fourth-round draft pick in 2018, Kiser a fifth-round draft pick in 2019, and Reeder went undrafted in 2019. 

Where a player is drafted never tells the full story, but it does help to illustrate the room Barry had in LA, and how it closely mirrors the room he’ll have in Green Bay. There isn’t a first-round pick or “superstar” in the Rams’ inside linebackers room, but all three players had key roles on defense and contributed to Los Angeles being the league’s top defense. 

With the Packers, Krys Barnes is likely to get the most extended looks at that starting “Mike” linebacker spot, and like Littleton, Barnes was also an undrafted free agent. He played in 13 games for the Packers in 2020, starting 10, and finished second on the team in total tackles with 80. He also had one forced fumble, a sack, and five tackles for loss. 

Behind Barnes is Kamal Martin, a 2020 fifth-round draft pick who looked to be fighting for the starting role opposite free agent acquisition Christian Kirksey before he suffered an injury late in training camp that kept him out of the first chunk of the season. Martin split weakside linebacker duties with Kirksey towards the end of the season, playing 19% of snaps on defense and 25% of special teams snaps. 

Then, there’s 2018 third-round pick Oren Burks and 2019 seventh-round pick Ty Summers, who both played over 75% of special teams snaps last season. Burks is back working with the inside linebackers this season so far in mini camp, so Barry will get an extended look at both players to see how they fit in his defense. Finally, sixth-round draft pick Isaiah McDuffie rounds out the room with De’Jon Harris and Ray Wilborn.

None of this is to say that Barry is going to turn the Packers inside linebackers into stars, but he does have vast experience working with some of the best, including his time with the Super Bowl-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002. During Barry’s six years with the Bucs as linebackers coach, his unit combined for seven Pro Bowls. 

If there’s untapped potential in the inside linebackers room, Barry could be just the guy to find it. With the linebacker trio of Kiser, Young, and Reeder in LA, Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley had versatility at his disposal, whether his defense was lined up in a 4-1 front on early downs, or emptying the box on third downs to rush the passer. And Staley uses a Vic Fangio-style defense just like Barry is expected to. 

Knowing what we know about Barry’s background and his experience with inside linebackers, expect Barnes, Martin, and whoever else is roaming the middle of the defense to take significant jumps in 2021. 

 

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Maggie Loney is a writer for Cheesehead TV and podcaster for the Pack-A-Day Podcast and Pack's What She Said. Find her on Twitter at @MaggieJLoney.

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Comments (46)

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BJP's picture

June 08, 2021 at 12:16 pm

End the bend (don’t break). This defense is capable of three and outs .

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CoachDino's picture

June 09, 2021 at 01:12 am

IMO, TO NFL DC's It's all situational. To your point they showed the 3 and out ability against TB when the Packers were down. Bend but don't break is used by all teams when they have a big lead in the 4th qtr and to a lesser extent with more time left.

IMO, when you have a juggernaut on Offense it's prudent to be a bit more risk averse on defense (situation dependent of course).

IMO, if Love is the QB, the Defense most likely will be tighter whether it was pettine or Barry.

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BJP's picture

June 09, 2021 at 02:06 am

Fair points. Another angle is limiting risk of injury. The Packer defense is not as deep as the offense. The fewer snaps they are on the field the fewer chances they have to get injured.

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mnbadger's picture

June 08, 2021 at 12:22 pm

Thanks Maggie for talking about something far less stressful than the ongoing feud. I love the optimistic, glass half full perspective, but I'm nervous when it's partially filled with the likes of OBurks and TSummers. We need better players than these two. GPG!

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packer132's picture

June 08, 2021 at 12:40 pm

Packers just signed LB De'vondre Campbell. He has played with the Falcons and Cardinals, and could push for a starting job. Competition is usually good.

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splitpea1's picture

June 08, 2021 at 12:55 pm

I like the move. Provides a veteran presence and more than just insurance, as he has racked up a lot of tackles throughout his career. Coverage is a liability, though.

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KenEllis's picture

June 08, 2021 at 01:21 pm

Campbell will be Gutey’s latest plug and play find at inside linebacker following Morrison, Goodson, & Kirksey.

And with the stud duo of Lancaster & Lowry back for a 4th straight season, the DLine will continue to allow gems like Barnes, Martin, and Summers to flourish (I don’t have it in me to mention that this is year 4 of the Oren Burks era).

Hard to believe PFF does not see the greatness of this latest iteration of the Pack’s ILB corps like Cheesehead writers and loyal Packer backers do and rated this group a solid 32nd — before the big signing of Campbell of course.

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Coldworld's picture

June 08, 2021 at 05:01 pm

PFF likes Lowry more than most. As to ILBs, can’t help thinking that Pettine wasn’t helping that group much. Hopefully Barry will make a better job of using the whole front “seven” effectively and that benefits all.

Nice to read a thought out and positive take on Barry and this position group. Sorry you didn’t appreciate it. I did.

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Alberta_Packer's picture

June 08, 2021 at 04:11 pm

An up-vote for solid sarcasm.

I think that the Packers are 50% of the way in improving the inside ILB position - with Barnes and Martin. It's the other 50% that it is now the real challenge. So is Campbell's value 25% - or less?

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CoachDino's picture

June 09, 2021 at 01:42 am

Fair enough statement. What's interesting is LAs ILB weren't much better than GBs overall.
IMO the difference between Many GB writers and PFF is simply 2 things.
Bias - come on, we are all fans and most will have a bias, some even overly adjusted.
But IMO in this Case Maggie and many of us fans are counting on development/potential from 2 rookies and not just carrying over 2020 PFF grades into 2021 PFF expected grades.
All teams depend on development so it's not w/o merit. Plus as I posted earlier, LA and that #1 defense had the 2nd worst ILB unit compared to the packers.

Also think its a bit disingenuous to figure Lancaster and lowery will be the starters and have nearly the same amount of snaps (less injuries) in 2021.
Keke was seriously hurt and lost a great deal of snaps. KC was as well for a short time as well as M Adams. Plus they only have 3 IDL out there 50% of the time. So if Keke is healthy, plus kenny and hopefully T Slayton will demand some early NT downs, I'd bank on seeing a lot less snaps of TL & DL. Not to mention the possibility of R Gary getting some more snaps at an IDL position. that makes DL and TL depth pieces, which they aren't bad at.

PS - What ILB was cut so to keep Burkes that had more overall value? Burkes and Summers have been disappointing (more Burkes being a 3rd rd pick) as ILB yet have been valuable Special Teams players on an affordable rookie contract. Though Burkes is going to have a tough time this year IMO, as he's becoming not so cheap and to your point, udeless on D.

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CoachDino's picture

June 09, 2021 at 01:44 am

Oh wait, "Flourish" does seem a bit strong, but then again, as a Packer fan I'm hoping so.

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packer132's picture

June 08, 2021 at 12:41 pm

duplicate

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TarynsEyes's picture

June 08, 2021 at 05:45 pm

As the FO continues to fill the half-empty part of the glass with has-beens, it pays no attention to the evaporation of the highly heralded half-full part coming sooner than later.

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CoachDino's picture

June 09, 2021 at 01:54 am

Not sure of your meaning?
Addressed CB
Addressed C - Linsly
Adressed WR - Rodgers
Addressed - DL - TS
Addressed - ILB -

Now with no cap space left after addressing DL by signing Kenny Clark, LT by sign Bahk,CB by signing KK (ya rough one) and RB by signing A Jones. The FA options are limited.
Please advise which one of these you wouldn't of done. Yes KK is an option but IMO it still made sense.

What more could they have possibly done.

There is no way they could push money out as they are the 31/32 worst cap space team in 2022 already (by Far)

What they continue to do is fill the lesser priorities with stop gaps and focus on spending their Top resources or Money and draft choices on much higher priorities.

Yes, this is my opinion but it does align with common football knowledge and the Packers current and future roster considerations.

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BJP's picture

June 09, 2021 at 02:12 am

KK can still be released.

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murf7777's picture

June 09, 2021 at 08:48 am

Hmmmm...crickets from TAryn.

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flackcatcher's picture

June 09, 2021 at 10:24 am

Sometimes I wonder if folks around here read TGR's articles. He clearly laid out the Cap Wall the FO was going to run into in 2022-2023 before Covid. This has been a constant issue since Rodgers contract was signed in 2018. Russ Ball has outplayed his contract for the organization, but there is no room left for Cap maneuvering. Then there is Rodgers not granting Cap relief earlier which hurt the Packers in resigning their own. It would be nice if Gute and Ball would sit down and explain the decisions made, especially last year in the mist of a pandemic.

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TarynsEyes's picture

June 09, 2021 at 11:42 am

The FO has addressed issues that likely will not be of considerable benefit for a few years, as is often spoken here, and it also leaves fans surmising the auto-return of Adams and other WR's who have no contracts after this season and the Amari Rodgers will be enough to replace what might be lost as to the WR group. Yes, the TE position seems set to a degree but much still needs to be seen and not just hoped for. The DL still needs an upgrade and Slaton may help but with the history of DL drafts over=all, I wouldn't place much on that before the mandatory three-year phase is complete. The Loss of Rodgers, if it happens, will make all these other half-full optimisms appear evaporating as Love will offer them no reprieve for a few years, less himself. The Love connection will make many look worse and perhaps make any retention of needed veterans harder to refrain from jumping ship, which was already a difficult chore for the team to overcome. The farther out the FO pushes money out to keep aging players the ability to replace them increases, thus evaporation.

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CoachDino's picture

June 09, 2021 at 01:20 am

Agreed, The funny story about LA was how bad their ILB were was year and how good the defense was. Only 1 of the 3 ILB graded above Barnes,Kirksey and Martin.
Says two things
1) ILB is not that important in this defense, which is very similar to Pettines according to the coaches - hence the long standing lack of focus compared to other positions
2) Barry isn't an ILB whisperer, or at least doesn't seem to want to be.

What is interesting as well as the drop Cory Littleton took when he left LA. He stunk last year (graded out around Kirksy and Barnes).

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greengold's picture

June 09, 2021 at 02:41 am

I thought same regarding Littleton until I realized LV switched him to OLB. I couldn’t figure it out looking at his stats, with marked decreases everywhere.

Why would they do that? Seems foolish to me, especially after making such a huge investment. His Missed Tkl% shot through the roof to nearly 20%. He had ZEROS in the sacks, INTs, PD and QB Hits departments.

Poof. He just disappeared.

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Alberta_Packer's picture

June 08, 2021 at 01:47 pm

The trio of Kiser, Young, and Reeder - does give hope for the Packers inside LB position. However we are only 2/3rds of the way there - with Barnes and Martin. It seems, what is still necessary for Barry's system to work, is another 1-2 serviceable linebackers. Are Summers. Burks and/ McDuffie capable? Summers - possibly, Burks - probably not, McDuffie - probably not, being a first year player. So, 50% chance that ILBs will flourish under Barry - unless another Barnes / Martin emerges.

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4thandinches's picture

June 09, 2021 at 12:12 am

5th round pick Martinez and udfa Barnes were able to fill essentially starting roles in their 1st years. I suspect this defense will be slightly different than the Capers and Pettine defenses but I wouldn't completely rule McDuffie out of the competition to start just because he's a rookie.

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Duneslick's picture

June 08, 2021 at 02:21 pm

This is becoming nothing more than advertisement for work from home soliciting. They get dislikes but the administrator does nothing about it. 5 out of 8 responses.

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LeotisHarris's picture

June 08, 2021 at 02:52 pm

A lot of people are saying CHTV site admin has lost many of their' best people to "shoprite." There's been a mass exodus over there, I guess.

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Alberta_Packer's picture

June 08, 2021 at 03:31 pm

The fact that these scan mails continue, under the nose of CHTV, gives credence to your point. CHTV (Nagler) has stated multiple times that they are aware of the problem, and that "they are working on it." But that was weeks ago. This shouldn't be a problem that's too difficult to fix - unless they don't want to.

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PackerAaron's picture

June 08, 2021 at 04:34 pm

Yes, you're right, we love being spammed. Think before you type. It's a spam farm attack from an international source. Our developers are woking on blocking them without having to shut things down.

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greengold's picture

June 08, 2021 at 04:43 pm

You and everyone at CHTV are doing your best. That is always a given. This stuff is a bummer, but people have been able to work around it while you're addressing the problem with the resources you have available.

Thanks for doing all that you do here, Aaron, and others. You are all appreciated greatly.

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Alberta_Packer's picture

June 08, 2021 at 10:51 pm

OK Aaron - First, I subscribe to several other sports sites. None have this spammer problem or at least they have a real time reporting option - which then takes care of the problem. I know professional web developers and programmers who have told me that constructing a spam filter/wall isn't that big of a challenge.

Secondly, spammers, unfortunately, count as web traffic. If advertising revenues is measured in visits - a spammer's visit counts just as much as a subscriber's. So quantitatively there is no difference. Of course, there is qualitatively.

Thirdly, I know that you can manually remove spam mail. So while your development team works on a solution - how much effort is there to do a little daily housekeeping and manually remove the intruders? After all, "cleanliness is next to godliness."

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BJP's picture

June 09, 2021 at 02:18 am

I recommend at least half a life if not a whole one… SMH

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PewAuKeeFan's picture

June 08, 2021 at 09:06 pm

I really have no issues just scrolling past the scam posts.

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Alberta_Packer's picture

June 08, 2021 at 10:49 pm

I prefer uncluttered space - to facilitate a better flow of thought and energy.

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BJP's picture

June 09, 2021 at 02:15 am

Megadittos

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Slim11's picture

June 08, 2021 at 02:39 pm

I certainly understand the concern about Burks and Summers. It is past time for Burks to be shown the door. Summers is a TCU product and I've never liked TCU players in the NFL given GB's experience with Marshall Newhouse and seeing Andy Dalton over the years.

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Coldworld's picture

June 08, 2021 at 02:44 pm

I think Summers showed growth last season. Small sample but I’m going to be watching him in camp. Burks may not survive the new signing.

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BuckyBadger's picture

June 08, 2021 at 04:00 pm

The Barry hire didn't give me much confidence this will get turned around. Not only has he not been very good at his stops as a coordinator he has been darn right awful and he isn't bringing Aaron Donald with him. A lot easier to play LB with that guy taking up double and triple teams.

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MajWhiplash's picture

June 08, 2021 at 07:02 pm

Another scehmere coach who thinks he can make a mole hill into a mountain with lesser players. Going to quickly find out that it wasnt Capers or the last guy who didnt coach well, it was them trying to coach third rate undersized, under speed, under agility players.

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LeotisHarris's picture

June 08, 2021 at 08:28 pm

Man, Maj, that's some third rate under writing right there.

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PewAuKeeFan's picture

June 08, 2021 at 09:08 pm

Why don't we reserve judgement for now and wait until the games start?

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White92's picture

June 08, 2021 at 07:42 pm

Totally agree. Barry was the most uninspiring coach hiring in recent memory.

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TheKanataThrilla's picture

June 08, 2021 at 06:19 pm

You can only run with the horses that you got. I have been hoping for a top notch ILB since we passed on Kendricks and picked up the wonderful Damarious Randall in one of those if the GM selected who the fans wanted things would have turned out a whole lot better. I hear that we have a philosophy that we don't value the ILB position. How has that worked out for us at getting us a Super Bowl? I hope it is improved, but it does seem to be a constant area of exploitation.

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MajWhiplash's picture

June 08, 2021 at 06:25 pm

Does the team have any inside linebackers? Wow shocked. Saw them pass on so many good ones I swear they were cancelling that postion for some weird defensive scheme like a nickle back or something.

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greengold's picture

June 09, 2021 at 04:31 am

Great look, Maggie, into what we might expect from Joe Barry. He’s gotten some stellar production from players who weren’t considered “premier players.” Kind of fits. Looked up all the players you mentioned, and looked at their 1st & 2nd year stats, all seem in line with what Martin & Barnes offer as a baseline. Production rose consistently.

I was a huge Cory Littleton fan in FA. Kamal Martin closely resembles Littleton’s 6-3 228 frame, though Martin is heavier at 6-3 240. Littleton exploded in his year 3 & year 4 with the Rams. He went to the Raiders and of course they screw that up, switching him to OLB. Stunningly stupid. He was becoming a phenomenal ILB under Barry.

Maggie, you included Ray Wilborn, the UDFA from Ball State. 6-4 224. He played both LB then S at Ball St., and that kid was a force. He’s nearly identical to Littleton in stature. My mind immediately went to Martin & Wilborn when I saw Joe Barry & ILBs in your headline, even though Wilborn is listed as a S on our Depth Chart.

In 2 years Ray Wilborn had 166 tackles 12.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 4 INTs, 12 PD and 2 FF. Look up his highlights and he’s fun, fun, fun to watch play. Top rated by PFF for coverage in his Conference.

Think those numbers are good? Those 2 seasons combined were about the same or less that Littleton’s Year 3 with LAR. Did about same year 4. Astronomical leaps in production numbers from many Joe Barry coached ILBs. Shelton Quarles. Derrick Brooks. Donald Butler.

While not household names, the Packers Martin & Wilborn are pretty exciting players, along with Barnes. Ty Summers & Oren Burks look to have big challenges ahead to stay on this roster. Both players struggled positionally, and may have been our best ST players, but that was on some of the worst STs in the NFL. We have to do better.

Joe Barry has some good talent here to work with nonetheless. Maybe Barry turns some of these guys into household names.

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greengold's picture

June 09, 2021 at 04:46 am

Fuck you, whoever you are for that thumbs down. This aggression will not stand, man!

For anyone wondering, this is a bit tongue in cheek. I got a thumbs down on this before I could finish editing... pretty funny. I always try to keep it light. I don’t care about thumbs up or down. Just like to keep it loose & fun.

While I am pretty positive about players we have, I’ve been wanting the Packers to add an early round marauder at ILB since Ted passed on Eric Kendricks, which I could not believe at the time. ILB was one of our greatest needs.

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PewAuKeeFan's picture

June 08, 2021 at 09:14 pm

Great write-up GG.

You take a lot of time and effort to put out information that is useful. Well written too, so that it is easy to read. It helps us a lot.

Thanks!

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PatrickGB's picture

June 09, 2021 at 10:28 am

It’s too early to tell how it will work out but I think that a DC who has emphasized LB play will help ours improve.

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flackcatcher's picture

June 10, 2021 at 11:04 am

ILB has always been the poor step-child in Green Bay defensive scheme's since 2011. The Packers have prioritized OLB, SS, DL over ILB. Outside some 'happy talk' by Barry, Gutekunst moves show that's not changing anytime soon.

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