Packers Still Have Options at Nickel Linebacker

For years, the Green Bay Packers have had a need at inside linebacker. What they have needed is not just a traditional linebacker but a guy that can cover and still hold up against the run.

Finding someone that meets those requirements has been difficult. This is nothing against Blake Martinez, who has been an effective player inside. 

Outside of being a tackling machine, Martinez has seven sacks the past three years, two interceptions, two other takeaways and 24 tackles for loss.

But Martinez is more of a traditional linebacker. He's great against the run but when he is asked to cover athletic running backs or tight ends, he struggles. 

That's why trying to draft someone like Devin Bush of Michigan was so appealing. Of course, it would have cost some draft capital to move up and the Packers didn't spend it.

They stood pat and drafted Rashan Gary, a guy they are undoubtedly hoping turns into a freakish edge rusher like Khalil Mack in Chicago. It's possible and it's certainly a swing for the fences.

Later in the first round, the Packers did use some of their draft capital to move up and select Darnell Savage, a safety that runs 4.36 and has a knack for finding the ball, with three interceptions in each of his last two seasons at Maryland.

There are plenty of reasons to be excited about Savage, who gives the Packers another really good safety to pair with Adrian Amos. He's another solid tackler and with his speed, a guy that should make up for mistakes and limit big plays.

Another thing I liked about the pick is the possibility that it frees up Josh Jones to play more linebacker.

Jones has been up and down since getting drafted in the second round by Green Bay. He has played in 29 games and started in 12. He has three sacks, five pass breakups, seven tackles for loss and one interception.

Jones is a good athlete and he's a hard hitter but safety doesn't seem like his best role. At least not playing in the deep middle. He seemed to thirve playing closer to the line of scrimmage, even getting two sacks in a win over the Bengals back in 2017.

He's big enough and tough enough to get things done in the running game and when forced to cover, he can hold his own against backs and tight ends. 

Playing Jones more at linebacker is one option for Green Bay but it's not the only one.

Oren Burks, a third-rounder from a year ago, has a chance to make an impact if he can stay healthy and make a big leap from year one to year two. 

Burks was drafted with a sub-package role in mind but injuries limited him early, even though he eventually made four starts. He will be a player to watch and another guy that can make an impact inside.

Outside of that, another option for the Packers would be adding a free agent like Zach Brown, who is still on the market. 

Obviously, you can't address every need in the draft. But through free agency and adding Gary, as well as Savage in the first round, Green Bay has added a lot on defense.

With all the pieces the Packers plus the leftovers like Jones and Burks, hopefully it's enough. 

 

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Chris is a sports journalist from Montana and has been blogging about the Packers since 2011. Chris has been a staff writer for CheeseheadTV since 2017 and looks forward to the day when Aaron Rodgers wins his second Super Bowl. Follow him @thepackersguru

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Comments (76)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
Hawg Hanner's picture

May 01, 2019 at 02:23 pm

Nice well done article. Looks we're on th right track. After all of the character problems with Kansas City draftees under John Dorsey, Hunt and Hill and who knows what else is out there, I am most thankful he did not get the job here in Green Bay.

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dblbogey's picture

May 01, 2019 at 03:33 pm

I saw Dorsey speak at a Packers Fan Fest several years back. He didn't impress me as being especially bright or of high character himself.

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Jonathan Spader's picture

May 01, 2019 at 03:56 pm

Dorsey drafted Mahomes, Baker Mayfield, traded for Oliver Vernon and OBJ. His list of accomplishments go on. I have enjoyed Gute but Dorsey is a much more accomplished GM and I would have loved to have him in GB again.

Want to talk about character problems? It's not like the Packers haven't had them. That's not a knock on the GM that's a poor player decision. We'll see how GB East fares in 2019.

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Coldworld's picture

May 01, 2019 at 06:45 pm

I’m not sure that is true. Teams do extensive research on player character. This kind of behavior generally is part of a pattern. Once in a while a mistake is made, but two this close together of the nature that they are leads me to think that a decision was taken that ability trumped off field concerns.

While this would hardly be the first franchise that has had a proclivity to make such decisions, I think it’s hard to argue that it is the player’s fault that it blows up in their face to the detriment of team and organization. Players don’t hire themselves.

What concerns me is that in a team environment, it seems hard to imagine that there wasn’t rumor internally before it blew up publicly. If so and nothing was done with this type of behavior then eventually someone will have to pay the price if the NFL is to be taken seriously in its assertions.

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Donster's picture

May 02, 2019 at 06:35 am

We will have to wait and see how Gute's decision to draft Dexter Williams works out with his history at Notre game. A drug and hand gun arrest (hang gun charge was dropped), then suspended his senior year four games for a failed drug test (marijuana). I know he is a 6th round pick, but a pick is a pick and if Williams has another failed drug test, now being in the NFL, it shows there is a pattern of this with Williams, and Gute took a risk by taking him. So if Williams fails a drug test more than once, it's on both Williams and Gute.

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Coldworld's picture

May 02, 2019 at 07:05 am

That was an interesting pick too. Having read about Dexter, it does seem like he saw the light and has other redeeming backstory.

Without seeking to mitigate Dexter’s folly, I understand that one would hope that a budding NFL drafted or player would know to stay off the weed, but I think it’s getting hard to justify the treatment of weed in a society where it’s legal in many states and popularly accepted in many parts of society and isn’t considered to enhance performance.

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dobber's picture

May 02, 2019 at 07:44 am

At this stage, the league's marijuana policy is really more of a dedication test. Knowing exactly what the CBA tells players and how the league has enforced the policy, how important is football to them?

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Southside's picture

May 02, 2019 at 08:26 am

State trooper found pot and a handgun in a car Dexter was in. Gun charge dropped against him because it was not his gun. The drug arrest was pot. I'm sure the vast majority of Packer players have never smoked pot. Wink wink. No big character flaws.

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Johnblood27's picture

May 03, 2019 at 10:03 pm

Wasn't KC where that player committed suicide in the team parking lot with a gun?

He was quite disturbed and nobody in the organization knew or cared enough to get the man some help?

KC has issues.

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Doug Niemczynski's picture

May 05, 2019 at 11:08 am

Babe Ruth struck out more times than he hit homeruns.

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Handsback's picture

May 01, 2019 at 02:35 pm

Must be some type of conflict with the last two defensive coaching staffs about what to do with JJ. Or, they were so hamstrung by poor safety play they needed him as a DB and sometimes as a hybrid LB. I don't know, but he seems perfect for that Thomas Davis type of LB.

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Coldworld's picture

May 01, 2019 at 03:09 pm

I think they drafted him to be a hybrid safety cover backer. The problem is that he isn’t good deep. That’s really the safety aspect. In addition I think the multiple roles did not help Jones master any of them and impacted his confidence.

Hopefully now he can focus on being a cover backer and let players more adept in space handle safety. That may unlock his athleticism.

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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

May 01, 2019 at 05:55 pm

People have reported Gary's Wonderlic test score was a 9. Anyone know what Jones was? Just curious and how they compare?

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Jonathan Spader's picture

May 01, 2019 at 06:04 pm

17 for Josh Jones not quite double Gary

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Titletown tremor's picture

May 01, 2019 at 06:29 pm

Gary has dyslexia. The test doesn’t mean much

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Coldworld's picture

May 01, 2019 at 06:50 pm

I find it fascinating that the nfl administers written tests to dyslexics. What is the point in that if you want a score that tells you anything useful? Oral moderation has been around for a long time to allow comparable testing. Is the NFL to poor or too lazy to adopt that? If so, why bother in the first place. If they did provide him with an oral test, then his result would be valid, but apparently they did not.

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IceBowl's picture

May 01, 2019 at 08:58 pm

Coldworld,

I think the same test to all is a valid baseline. Do you want 255 dyslexics?

Everything can be manipulated.

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Coldworld's picture

May 02, 2019 at 07:15 am

I disagree. If one has a person who, for some reason is slow to, or is unable to rapidly comprehend the written word they will receive a low score even if they have a very high cognitive ability.

Their score would be lower than that of a person with a much lower cognitive ability but no reading impairment. Since the test is intended to provide an indicia of the ability to digest and process information, then that test has just produced a totally false reading under the scenario above, which is contrary to the concept of baseline comparatives.

If teams just look at a score and if dyslexia is indicated ignore or otherwise adjust their response, the test is simply devalued, but when there are ways to remove the extraneous factor and allow comparative baselining I don’t see why an organization like the NFL gains by not doing so.

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Guam's picture

May 02, 2019 at 08:35 am

IceBowl,

You wouldn't make that comment if you knew how impactful dyslexia can be. As a youngster, I had a friend who was severely dyslexic and could not tell left from right and took written tests so poorly that he was perpetually assigned to the special ed classes in grade school and middle school. When educators finally figured out his dyslexia and educated him properly, he blossomed. Last time I saw him, he was finishing up his PhD in Physics at Columbia and was headed to Oxford University to do his post-doctoral work. And he still can't tell left from right...… not dumb by any stretch of the imagination, just has dyslexia.

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Hawg Hanner's picture

May 01, 2019 at 07:43 pm

Gary is dyslexic and has trouble reading but has okay intelligence, just tests poorly. It is I think unfair to throw out his Wonderlic without such qualification

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MarkinMadison's picture

May 01, 2019 at 10:36 pm

I didn't know he was dyslexic. That changes how I look at it quite a bit.

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Nick Perry's picture

May 02, 2019 at 04:12 am

Me too Mark.

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dobber's picture

May 02, 2019 at 07:54 am

Rashan Gary was academic all-Big Ten in 2017 and had, by all accounts, very good HS and College grades.

nbcsports.com/bayarea/raiders/how-rashan-gary-became-football-player-brand-and-soon-nfl-draftee

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Johnblood27's picture

May 03, 2019 at 10:07 pm

The stigma attached to dyslexia is absurd now that it is so well understood.

Only by working together can we create a level evaluatory field.

Dyslexics Untie!

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IceBowl's picture

May 03, 2019 at 11:07 pm

Hawg Hanner,

Would it be fair to make it a prerequisite to administer the Wonderlic to everyone who wanted to comment on it??

Let's see how you score before judging.

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comeonman's picture

May 01, 2019 at 03:04 pm

If Josh Jones doesn't get it this year, I am afraid he never will. The guy has the speed and the strength to be a difference maker, but it just doesn't seem to show up in games. Hopefully playing him exclusive near the line of scrimmage will be his spot to be a difference maker.

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4thand10's picture

May 01, 2019 at 09:42 pm

Josh Jones is an improving player according to PFF , he improved a lot from year 1 to year 2 and now he will finally get to play one position on D thanks to more consistent coaching from Pettine. Capers would have wrecked that Kid. I think he makes another jump this year. As far as “nickel” is concerned. Everything that the Packers are doing roster wise is pointing to a 4-3 cover three similar to what Seattle plays.

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Nick Perry's picture

May 02, 2019 at 04:19 am

I'm thinking the same. With the FA added and the selections made the Packers have basically set themselves up to be able to play ANY scheme. Gute LOVES versatility and that's exactly what this defense will be.... versatile. The Packers now have the players to play more scheme specific and adjust to no matter what the offense will throw at them.

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Coldworld's picture

May 02, 2019 at 07:25 am

I think he improved because he played more like an ILB. To be fair to Capers, he wasn’t drafted for that.

To be critical of Capers and the whole MM regime, smart coaches adjust training or learning to the individual knowing that physical ability doesn’t matter if the mental side is overwhelmed. With MM, just like a player had to fit the plays, not the other way around, the player had to master multiple positions at the same time regardless of learning ability.

Some can, and some take longer. Jones appears to be the latter. Simplify his curve. Yes, it reduces initial versatility but it also gives a better chance of competence in at least one role, and I will take that over the ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ result of the alternative. It’s not like coaches can’t tell when players are lining up wrong or moving as schemed.

To the point above, for that reason I agree that MM and Capers would have ruined Jones. I have a suspicion that they have ruined others over the years. A player who is lost looks slow, indecisive and is ineffective. A good way to end a career.

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Zack Mcdonald's picture

May 01, 2019 at 03:13 pm

Finally someone brought up bringing in Zac Brown. This will be my favorite off-season ever of they signed him. Our defense would just be flat out scary as hell with depth and talent all over the field and 0 weaknesses. The weakest part would be our secondary and only because the dbs are unproven. I don't think it will happen but would love it if they signed him. Why is this guy still on the market and how much do you think he would cost.

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IceBowl's picture

May 01, 2019 at 09:07 pm

Zack Mcdonald,

How is our D now?

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dobber's picture

May 02, 2019 at 07:56 am

"Finally someone brought up bringing in Zac Brown. This will be my favorite off-season ever of they signed him."

Does this mean that Chicken Fried will now become the theme song of the Packers?

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holmesmd's picture

May 02, 2019 at 09:05 am

You don’t know what you’re talking about. Burks gets hurt before the season starts, misses the entire season and he’s a bust? That’s just silly!

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Lphill's picture

May 01, 2019 at 03:55 pm

Should have been addressed in the draft Oren Bust is not the guy , Ty Summers I think will fill a need but probably better playing the run then the pass , I think the Packers are still lacking in the middle.

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Coldworld's picture

May 01, 2019 at 06:53 pm

A rookie who was injured is a bust already? Didn’t that Rodgers clown break his foot and suck in year one?

Seriously, we need some perspective here. He may or may not make the grade, but there is no basis whatsoever for making a decision either way at this point.

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Lphill's picture

May 02, 2019 at 09:18 am

So if he was so hurt why was he playing and not on IR ? were the Packers that stupid last season that they would play a injured player rather than let him heal up on IR? Burks is not the answer .

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dobber's picture

May 02, 2019 at 07:58 am

Would not be a bit surprised to see guys like Kyler Fackrell and Preston Smith eating up run downs on the inside. That's where the challenge really is: in base. And what IS base anymore? Once you go to passing downs, that second ILB comes off the field for another CB or S anyway.

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NJMagic's picture

May 01, 2019 at 04:02 pm

Would love one more DB instead of ILB. Clairborne? Scandrick? We're one King injury from Jackson starting on the outside... Or Brown (who competes but is far from ready).

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PeteK's picture

May 01, 2019 at 04:55 pm

Let's not forget that we have Alexander and Williams as starters. King and Jackson should be competing for nickel and dime backs unless they beat out Williams .

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JakeDickerson's picture

May 01, 2019 at 05:17 pm

Williams isn’t starting over King my guy.

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PeteK's picture

May 02, 2019 at 07:54 am

I hope you're right , which means he stayed injury free for the first time.

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Coldworld's picture

May 01, 2019 at 07:02 pm

Tony Brown should not be overlooked, I think he may prove to be a real find last year.

We also have Hollman from this year as well. I hear people are high on Natrell Jamerson and we also have a player the 49ers took in round 3 to medical redshirt in Will Redmond, who was expected to be high first round before injury. Gute picked him up during the season.

Alexander, King, Williams, Jackson, Brown, Hollman, Jamerson and Redmond seems a pretty good competition standard.

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4thand10's picture

May 01, 2019 at 09:45 pm

Liked. I saw a lot of good play from Tony Brown with the exception of 1 bone headed penalty late hit play. Other than that his play was very good.

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Coldworld's picture

May 02, 2019 at 07:32 am

I liked his attitude too. Hopefully he will learn the line not to cross. A couple of the calls on him were a tad ticky-tacky. I like a player who finishes. Sometimes that causes penalties on the boundaries, but that’s better than letting the opponent by. A little passion was good to see. Experience will temper it, but I hope not extinguish it. Alexander and Brown could have a really positive influence on the whole group mentality.

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dobber's picture

May 02, 2019 at 07:59 am

Don't forget that stupid taunting penalty, too. He can help this team if he can keep his focus.

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Nick Perry's picture

May 02, 2019 at 04:23 am

I think Tony Brown will surprise you this season. Outside those 2 stupid penalties in the first few games he played in he got better with each passing week. THAT is an UDFA that would have made TT proud back in 2009 and 2010 when ted was uncovering them every year.

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Tarynfor12's picture

May 01, 2019 at 04:07 pm

" Wide open over the middle!"
I wonder if GB doesn't hold the record for that being said in games.

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packerbackerjim's picture

May 01, 2019 at 04:30 pm

I hope to have that never uttered again. Infuriating to say the least.

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IceBowl's picture

May 01, 2019 at 05:14 pm

Tarynfor12,

4th and 30 something. Kills me.

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Tarynfor12's picture

May 01, 2019 at 05:32 pm

Yes me too, but luckily it isn't heard every game, multiple times, like not hearing it would be an aberration,as the other.

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gary g's picture

May 01, 2019 at 04:16 pm

Just think how far this team has come in the last few months. Still have to prove it on the field, but i think Gute has done an amazing job of acquiring talent.

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fthisJack's picture

May 01, 2019 at 05:47 pm

i think they added 5 guys that will see a lot of snaps on defense....put them with Jaire, King, Martinez, Clark and Daniels and that should be a top 10 defense.

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4thand10's picture

May 02, 2019 at 11:00 am

Josh Jackson didn’t play bad for a rookie. That blocked kick he caught in the air and returned for a TD was amazing. I could watch that play over and over.

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RickInCali's picture

May 01, 2019 at 06:06 pm

I sigh at all the Jackson hate. He is a good player. With Savage, we can play single-high and man-up press everywhere. We play so much nickel and dime that another CB would be good, but we have to let guys play to reach the potential they were drafted on.

Name 3 teams that wouldn’t kill to have our defensive backfield as it is currently constituted... Name 3 teams that run 3-4 that are better on paper than the Smith’s, Daniels, Clark, Gary, Fackrell et al.... And that’s assuming you get zip from Adams, which I would not assume.

I’d say we’re in really, really nice shape even with our questions at LB

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joe packer's picture

May 01, 2019 at 06:54 pm

josh jones ILB. your answer.

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Coldworld's picture

May 01, 2019 at 07:08 pm

Jones should just be labeled an ILB at this point for our sake and his. Safety is Amos, Savage, Green and Williams. If one or more were injured and coverage were needed i’d Go to Brown, Jamerson or Jackson before I put Jones in space in the backfield again.

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Since'61's picture

May 01, 2019 at 08:57 pm

Pettine will provide a variety of looks at ILB. One of the Smiths, Gary, Burks and Jones will all probably have snaps playing next to Martinez and in other ILB combinations as well.

I'm not expecting to see a "traditional" base defense on many snaps this season. Thanks, Since '61

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4thand10's picture

May 01, 2019 at 09:51 pm

Burks or Jones or an unknown yet will be lining up next to Martinez. Gary is an outside rusher and occasional inside rusher but not a 5 yards off the line ILB....IMHO.

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Coldworld's picture

May 02, 2019 at 07:37 am

He is fast enough in theory. It would seem something of a waste but I wouldn’t rule it out as an occasional scheme twist. I think Peppers did it once in a while while with us.

I say give him the ball and make him our red zone heavy back. With his initial step and weight, that would give the opposing front 7 something to think about.

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dobber's picture

May 02, 2019 at 08:01 am

I should have scrolled to your comment before posting mine above.

Right there with ya!

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porupack's picture

May 01, 2019 at 10:02 pm

Can ZBrown shut down the short middle of the field, where opposing teams routinely circumcised packer defense's short middle for the last 10 years? I didn't think we had anymore cap space. But, if he would clean up that area of the field, go all in on the defensive rebuild.

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IceBowl's picture

May 01, 2019 at 10:12 pm

porupack ,

Lets have your answer, not just an off the wall question.

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albert999's picture

May 01, 2019 at 10:51 pm

Ty summers is the answer

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dobber's picture

May 02, 2019 at 08:03 am

Ty Summers will be fortunate to make the 53 as a special teams guy.

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porupack's picture

May 02, 2019 at 06:50 am

Icebowl,
I don't know ZBrown, so I can't give an answer.
Its a valid question and pertinent to the original article, and I place it smack 'on-the-wall' for those who know him better and seen him play, to have better info on what he can do at this stage of his career, and why he might still be unsigned.
The original article mentions ZBrown, similarly without giving an answer as to fit and current prowess. Seems that the ILB position remains concerning to a number of fans, and may be one vulnerability remaining on D.

If its off-the wall to you, feel free to pass on answering. If you have intel on ZBrown, I'd welcome it.

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dobber's picture

May 02, 2019 at 08:04 am

Zach Brown was very much a 3 down LB early in his career, but he's more of a run-down guy, now. I don't see him as being any more the answer to covering RBs and TEs than Blake Martinez at this point.

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IceBowl's picture

May 02, 2019 at 07:30 pm

porupack,

You use the internet.

Opinions here have to be vetted for accuracy. (Not all posters, but certainly many) If I were looking for accurate info, I would look myself.

Although I research my information, so many here just throw up names and data into the wind and expect accreditation.

Just sayin', good research is your best info.

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porupack's picture

May 02, 2019 at 10:42 pm

Icebowl,
I'll ask a question any time I desire. I research other stuff far more significant than football, so I'll enjoy reading and chiming in when I feel like down time. I appreciate others who dig film and research, and I like diversity of opinion.

No, I didn't even give my opinion, and no, they don't have to be vetted for accuracy. I asked a question.

BTW, there are all kinds of bizarre opinions posted.

I don't expect accreditation, and can't even imagine what your thinking. I'll respectfully use my right to post any question, and even post an off-the-wall comment when that time comes. WIll this discussion need to continue? Its kind of weird.

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zeroluv's picture

May 01, 2019 at 10:24 pm

I would sign Zach Brown at the expense of developing Josh Jones. Jones will be a stud at ILB if he plays there full time.

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Coldworld's picture

May 02, 2019 at 07:41 am

I’m assuming you mean you wouldn’t sign? If so I agree.

There is a good chance that one of Burks/Jones/Summers will seize that spot if they are allowed to focus on it, remain healthy and get snaps.

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Lphill's picture

May 02, 2019 at 05:41 am

Ty Summers May surprise us , some good film of him chasing down running backs etc, if he has good cover skills he will be seeing some time with Martinez, Packers still could have gotten an inside backer at 44 . Inside linebacker is a weakness right now .

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Coldworld's picture

May 02, 2019 at 07:42 am

He showed very poor coverage recognition. That was why he was there in the seventh. That could change. But at present he seems to be seen more in the Martinez role.

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dobber's picture

May 02, 2019 at 08:46 am

Agreed. I think he's a case where we're letting his athleticism blind us to the fact that he's likely to be a run-down ILB.

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jannes bjornson's picture

May 02, 2019 at 08:24 pm

They need sp teams players.

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RCPackerFan's picture

May 02, 2019 at 06:34 am

First off Martinez is a 3 down player. He supposedly has bulked up a quite a bit this offseason. i expect him to have a really big year this year.

As far as the other ILB, I think it will be used in rotation a bit or in different packages.

I do think Burks will start next to Martinez. He is entering his 2nd year. He was looking really good until he got hurt. Most players take their biggest leap from year one to year 2. Burks definitely is a guy to watch in year 2.

I can see them using other looks in different Nickel defenses. They could go with Josh Jones as an ILB/S tweener. Mabye instead of a ILB they will try to add another CB.

There are a lot of options for them.

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ReaganRulz's picture

May 02, 2019 at 06:41 pm

Lots of chit chat on the defense and I am excited to see how all of the pieces fall into place under Pettine......but the offense will be the true test. How will the 3 WR draft picks from last year step up this year? We did not add much except for the TE and RB that we drafted....good potential with these guys, but most likely not this year. I’m not sure what WR’s are available in free agency, but I would feel better if we got another experienced WR besides Adams.

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