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Opportunity Open to Lattimore, Barrington as OTAs Get Underway

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Opportunity Open to Lattimore, Barrington as OTAs Get Underway

When the Green Bay Packers didn't address inside linebacker during the recently completed NFL Draft, that fact could be interpreted in a number of different ways.

One is that after Ryan Shazier and C.J. Mosley came off the board in the first round, there were exceedingly few inside linebackers projected to make an impact in professional football and worthy of being selected.

Another is that the Packers might feel comfortable with incumbent starters A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones.

While a legitimate argument could be made that Hawk and Jones have provided the Packers with merely mediocre production the past few seasons, it's not like the position was in dire straits like safety before the Packers made Ha Ha Clinton-Dix the 21st overall selection.

After making 118 tackles, a career-high five sacks and playing in all 16 games for the seventh time in eight seasons, Hawk is arguably coming off the best season of his career.

The reality is Hawk is a leader, consistent, reliable, and his job is most likely safe for at least the 2014 season. It's the spot next to Hawk in the starting lineup that could be up for grabs.

When healthy, Jones is a competent NFL inside linebacker. Unfortunately, he missed four full games last season due to hamstring and ankle injuries.

In 2013, Jones made 84 tackles, three sacks, forced one fumble but didn't deflect a single pass—what could be considered pedestrian statistics for a player considered to be a starter and being paid like one after signing a three-year contract averaging $3.75 million last offseason.

Perhaps one could read into the Packers not adding any signifcant additions to the inside linebacker position beyond undrafted free agency to mean the Packers feel good about some of the younger players already on their roster—namely Jamari Lattimore and Sam Barrington.

Jones might get the first crack at a starting gig because of his experience, he has yet to play well enough to be granted any guarantees.

As Organized Team Actitvities (OTAs) begin this week in Green Bay, an opportunity has presented itself to Lattimore and Jones to potentially earn more playing time in 2014.

Green Bay showed some committment to Lattimore earlier this offseason by offering him a right-of-first-refusal tender. Whereas the Packers allowed fellow restricted free agent M.D. Jennings test the open market and sign with the Chicago Bears, Lattimore wasn't allowed to slip through the cracks.

Lattimore has been a special teams staple for years in Green Bay, going so far as to be honored as the unit's postseason captain in 2012. But the door is open to an even bigger role if he can seize it.

Making the transition from outside to inside linebacker for the first time in his career last season, Lattimore took over for an injured Jones at several points in 2013 and made 35 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble, all career highs.

At times, Lattimore appeared to be a player with a surprising amount of playmaking potential and at others he looked undisciplined and out of position, which probably shouldn't come as a surprise given he was in the first year of a position switch.

With another year of experience under his belt, Lattimore has a chance to receive more consistent playing time at inside linebacker and should be highly motivated to do so. As part of his tender offered by the Packers, Lattimore received just a one-year contract, so he'll be seeking more long-term stability when he reaches unrestricted free agency next offseason.

Barrington, meanwhile, enters his sophomore season in the NFL with loads of potential but still plenty to prove.

Just as he was starting to carve out a role on special teams last season, playing in seven games and making three tackles, a hamstring injury landed him on injured reserve, ending his season.

Unfortunately for Barrington, fellow inside linebackers Jones, Lattimore and Rob Francois all also missed time at various points during the season, which could have opened the door to increased playing time on defense had he been available.

Players entering Year 2 in the NFL are frequently cited as making some of the biggest improvements of their career, and Barrington would certainly stand to benefit if he can make such a leap.

On paper, inside linebacker looks to be one of the weaker positions on the Packers roster. It's up to Barrington and Lattimore to help the inside linebackers either change some minds or simply reinforce the notion that the position is weak.

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].

Photo: Linebacker Jamari Lattimore by Larry Radloff Photography.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (18) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

RCPackerFan's picture

I really liked Lattimore when he came in for Jones in that 3 game stretch. I thought at the time he made a bigger impact then Jones and that he should have stayed the starter.
With a full season and another full offseason learning the position I think he could be a player to watch in possibly taking over as the starting ILB next to Hawk.

This is where Lattimore can really take some major steps though is in the OTA's.

Icebowler's picture

I don't understand why we have to wait until Bradford loses out at OLB before we move him inside. I think he has much more potential inside. I would like to see Lattimore start in base with Jones coming in for nickel and dime. Among the other four or five young prospects, I hope we can find one or two who show promise as 3 down players.

DrealynWilliams's picture

You want him in coverage more than blitzing????

Icebowler's picture

Since Hawk can't cover a pan, Yes. We need to get some push up the middle with our d-line. It would help I our LOB could cover as well. We're getting killed by TE's and slot WR's over the short middle.

lucky953's picture

I think they'll be competent on 1st and 2nd down with Hawk & Jones (or Lattimore). It's 3rd down that's got me worried. At the end of close games, you have to get those 3rd down stops to kill drives and seal the game. Those seam, drag, and circle routes just kill this defense.

Bearmeat's picture

Nickel and Dime Defense... put Hyde in at MLB. Dude tackles WRs and RBs like a MLB anyway. And he's more than fast enough to handle those routes.

DrealynWilliams's picture

Either Hyde or Richardson as an extra LB - I'm with that. Both are capable tacklers if it's a run and both are better at man/zone than any LB (Hyde is obviously better of the 2.)

HankScorpio's picture

I have this sinking feeling that ILB might be the 2014 version of Safety last year...a place everyone was screaming they needed help for an entire offseason that brought none.

I'd be very happy to be wrong. Barrington and Lattimore are young enough that there might be a lot of improvement from one or both.

But it does feel very similar to what happened at Safety last year.

Personally, I would have bit the bullet and overpaid for Karlos Dansby. Since the Packers didn't go that route, I'm left trying to talk myself into being a fan of the two youngsters.

DrealynWilliams's picture

"I have this sinking feeling that ILB might be the 2014 version of Safety last year"

Can't get worse than MD Jennings play. At least there's (some kind of) competition at ILB. If it wasn't MD Jennings it was Banjo. If it wasn't Banjo it was Bush.

guenaj15's picture

It sound like you are implying that the team is in bad shape because these positions are "up for grabs" However, that doesn't mean they don't have viable options for many of them. Especially OLB, DE, RT. I mean KR and PR....? They have options for returning kicks, just because they haven't been using a roster spot for a Devin Hester like player for several years doesn't mean that the Packers don't have solid kick returners.

Its not all doom and gloom if you really look at it.

MarkinMadison's picture

The safety play last year was just flat-out incompetent by NFL standards. The Packers may not have the athletic play maker that they need at ILB, but they will not look incompetent. Just have to sit back now and see if the salary cap shakes anyone loose.

RCPackerFan's picture

One thing to keep in mind too, is that there are a lot more options and flexibility at ILB then there were at S last year.

To start we have Hawk, Jones, & Lattimore who all have played, and at some point in each of their careers have played well.
Lattimore and Barrington with another years experience could emerge as a legit starter.

Also there are other options to fill the void if Jones, Lattimore and Barrington don't improve.
Mathews could be moved inside in some packages, perhaps Nickel and/or Dime packages. Bradford could be an option inside. To get more pass rushers either could be moved inside to create more pass rush.
In some Nickel packages they could replace the ILB next to Hawk with Hyde or Richardson like we have talked about in previous conversations. It would add an extra DB to the field.

While ILB might not be the best position talent wise or the deepest, I think it is a position where there are a lot more options and flexibility especially when comparing it to the S position last year.

jh9's picture

ILB/MLB is the heart of any defense. Show me an effective defense and I’ll show you a team that has effective ILBs/MLB.

For the last several years our ILBs have been mediocre to ineffective. Too many times we’ve seen our ILBs hit a ballcarrier two or three yards past the line of scrimmage and then watch the ball carrier fall forward for another two or three yards. Too many times we’ve seen our ILBs trailing TEs and RBs who catch passes over the middle. The best teams with the best balance of offense and defense know this is an area where the Packers are weak and they exploit it.

Until the ILBing play significantly improves, IMO the Packers will be a one and done playoff team. Since we didn’t draft an ILB, all we can do is hope for one or two guys to step-up and make tackles at or behind the LOS and have the speed to cover TEs and RBs. Personally, I don’t care who steps-up. All I know that if we don’t get improved play at ILB this year we will once again be one and done when the playoffs come around regardless of how good our offense is.

The TKstinator's picture

I disagree. I think MLB/ILB used to be the heart, but not any more. I'll take elite pass rushers and elite cover guys over elite ilb's.

jh9's picture

Tell that to Ray Lewis or NaVorro Bowman. I guess the Steelers made a mistake when they took Ryan Shazier in the 1st round of the draft with the 15th pick overall. Or the Ravens made a mistake when they took C.J. Mosley in the 1st round with the 17th pick overall.

I guess we'll have to agree to disagree.

jh9's picture

Pass rushers live on an island. Yes they rush the passer and get paid big bucks, but they don't juice-up the other players on defense like a great ILB/MLB does. A great ILB/MLB is a force multiplier. His play can help the defensive line play better and he can save the secondary from tackling. He intimidates the offensive line, the ball carrier and the QB. You're probably right, though. In today's NFL most casual fans don't see how important his play can be and that's a real shame.

The TKstinator's picture

I think those guys were picked where they were because they were viewed as really good football players as opposed to being overvalued because of the position they play.

If given a choice, how would you rank:
Elite cover guys
Elite inside LB's
Elite pass rushers?

For me:
Rush, cover, inside lb (in that order)

The TKstinator's picture


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