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Why Oren Burks is such a good fit for Green Bay

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Why Oren Burks is such a good fit for Green Bay

For what seems like the 10th year in a row, the Green Bay Packers draft was focused on the defensive side of the ball. But there was one selection, in particular, that filled a need that has been around for years.

And that pick was the selection of inside linebacker Oren Burks of Vanderbilt. Certainly, Blake Martinez has been a nice find at inside linebacker, and he hasn’t been bad in nickel and dime situations. But he is far from perfect.

Martinez just isn’t quite quick enough to handle tight ends and running backs all day. He will have to at some points, there is no doubt about that. However, with Burks, a former college safety, the Packers may have finally found an answer at inside linebacker.

Now that doesn’t mean that Burks will be a three-down player right away. He is a little on the smaller and after playing linebacker for really just one season at Vanderbilt, it remains to be seen how he will do taking on NFL guards consistently.

However, the Packers don’t really need Burks to be a run stuffer. While their run defense hasn’t always been the greatest, not being able to stop the run wasn’t what killed Green Bay last season, it was being unable to get off the field on third down. Plain and simple.

The fact that they ranked 30th in pass defense didn’t help either or that the Packers couldn’t pressure the quarterback or force turnovers with any regularity. In the NFL, you have to make impact plays and get off the field on third-and-long.

We all know from watching the Packers last season, they didn’t do either of those things. Not with any type of consistency anyways. How can Burks help with that? Alone he can’t. But he could be an upgrade in coverage, while also allowing the Packers to leave Josh Jones at safety.

Morgan Burnett worked in the dime role for a time last season. But when injuries struck, he had to move back to safety and the Packers didn’t have an answer. I can just remember Greg Olson (9 for 116) killing the Packers in that all-important game vs Carolina. Not to say Burks will make that difference year one, but his athleticism makes him better suited than Martinez or Jake Ryan.

Overall, the Packers may not have added a ton of impact players this offseason, at least not right away, because with rookies it can take time. Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson may be stars someday, but for now, they offer depth and versatility. 

They also add athleticism and a fighting chance, something Burks brings too and that more than anything, is what the Packers need to succeed against new-age NFL offenses.


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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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (53) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Packer Fan's picture

There is a reason why the NFL players accepted a structured contract pay for rookies. The rookies were making tons of money for POTENTIAL! And that is what we have here, potential. We will see how well potential does this season. Hopefully a few of those rookies turn that potential into good play. We will need it.

Coldworld's picture

Taking up your pessimistic tone, a faster linebacker who converted from a safety but may be raw is a step up from a linebacker who can neither cover nor keep up. Either way, I can’t see Burkes making us worse. How much better remains to be seen.

The TKstinator's picture

Give him time.

The Marathon Man's picture

True, but I will take speed on a guy that appears to have his head screwed on straight any day. The guy has a Vanderbilt education, and his sister is a doctorial candidate at Stanford, where she played volleyball. Guys that have the capability of learning and understanding the system quickly gives him at least a fighting chance for success. My eggs are in Oren's basket.

4thand1's picture

We have speed, lets see how it translates to making plays.

Lare's picture

I agree. Instead of having the slow inexperienced players that Thompson always seemed to prefer, now we have players that have the speed to make up for their lack of experience. Once they put it all together this should be a pretty good defense at some point.

EddieLeeIvory's picture

I just want Anthony Barr to need assistance to get up & off the field in week 2.

Chris Peterson's picture

Can't argue with that bro.

Tundraboy's picture

And for Cousins to strain something.

4thand1's picture

He already strained the queens bank account.

Duke Divine's picture

Aka: Brad Johnson but short

KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

I'd like to simply beat the Vikes straight up mano to mano. No excuses!

Bearmeat's picture

Absolutely could not disagree more. We shouldn't be rooting for injuries. And regardless, that was a questionable hit, but it certainly was not Burfict level dirty.

I want to beat Minniesoda 90-0 both times we play them next year. I want them to go 0-20 (including preseason). I want them to be mentioned as the worst team of all time. I want their fans to shut up (they are obnoxious).

But I don't want that to happen via injuries. Let's not forget these are human beings. Yes, they're paid very well for the risks they are incurring playing such a violent game. And yes, no one is forcing them to play. But they are still humans.

Tundraboy's picture

Nothing career threatening or season ending just want to see us knock them the hell around. No problem with them having a few of our type of chronic injuries either.

Bearmeat's picture

Not me. I want them to have no excuses.

Duke Divine's picture

Vikes fans always have excuses. They're an excuse themselves...

KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

Just Knock the Snot Out of Them works for me! :)

Chuck Farley's picture

He taught other defenders wrap your arms around Rodgers and drive him to the turf and your home free. Season over for the pack in one play. 15 yd Penalty, no problemo brother.

GBPDAN1's picture

We start with 2 important division games and a 3rd prior to the bye. I hope some of these young guys ; Burks, King, Jones, Alexander, Jackson, can help contribute out of the gate. We need to win our division games, especially the home Vikings game, as a division title is ,obviously, the best way to enter the postseason.

Tundraboy's picture

Yes sir. I'd like to see the whole team come out of the gate blazing. Now that I think about it, I can see the defense led by Pettine to do just that, and even carry the team if the O has it's usual warm up group of games. Hoping for both especially with Philbin back.

kevgk's picture

I couldn't be happier. Coverage linebackers are necessary to play good defense in 2018. I'm glad they saw the need.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

You mean we have a GM who drafts players with the DC's scheme and needs specifically in mind? Well, shiver me timbers! [Edit: I put that last line in just for TK: I don't mind providing the straight line. Hmmm, another opportunity.]

The TKstinator's picture

Consider our timbers shivered.
Like in seizure proportions, even.

Tundraboy's picture

Makes me want to watch a swashbuckler movie classic.

The TKstinator's picture

Or play dodgeball and question who you really are.

Handsback's picture

I like Martinez and expect him to have another good to great year. Burks is going to have a lot of opportunities to prove he can stop the run, and cover RBs and TEs. I'm not expecting much this year, but next year he will ready.

Point Packer's picture

Martinez had an average year. He was neither good nor great. Sorry bro, but you put on your extreme homer glasses for that comment.

HankScorpio's picture

He tied for the league lead in tackles. I'd say that qualifies as 'good' at the very least.

I think it is a reasonable position that he leaves something to be desired in pass game, which is obviously much more important than run game support. And that Daniels and Clark were so disruptive in front of him that his path to the ball was cleared in many cases. So reasonable people can disagree that he was great.

But saying that a guy that led the league in tackles was just average is just a little too much "hot take", even for me--a guy that is hardly the leading member of the Blake Martinez Fan Club.

Archie's picture

You can't fix everything in one year. Teddy Boy left us too many holes blowing so many high draft picks, especially on defense. But I really like what Gutey has done in his first draft. And that is saying a lot given that I almost died when he passed on Edmunds, James & Davenport to trade down from 14. It took me a while to get over that but I really like what he did - he turned the Pack's biggest weakness into a possible strength and he plucked an extra 2019 R1 pick in the process. For all I know, Alexander is every bit as good as the three aforementioned and he fit what the Packers needed better than any of them. When you combine him with Josh Jackson & Burkes, you realize our nickel/dime defense has a really good chance at being for real now. That is something Teddy Boy spent a decade trying to do and never came close. And you can't have real aspirations for a SB Championship if you can't get off the field on 3rd down. Throw in Pettine for Capers and I'm starting to look forward to a much balanced Packers team going forward. I know it might not all come to fruition in year 1 but year 2 and 3 have me smiling. In fact, I can't wait to see what Gutey sets out to fix in next year's draft, especially with that extra #1 pick. In fact a down year in 2018 could be good for two reasons - we could be picking in the middle of each round instead of near the bottom and we could be looking at a new HC. To me, Dom Capers is to defense as Mike McCarthy is to offense - old and stale and hasn't kept up with the times. W/o the best QB on the planet it would be so much more obvious but it is obvious enough as is. Can you imagine getting an innovative young HC and using next year's draft to fix the offense like we did this year on defense? Admittedly, we probably still need a big time pass rusher on defense but we can do that next year and still rebuild our offense. We need a #1 WR, a #1 TE, a starting RT and maybe a starting G. Not sure about GB future of Cobb, Matthews, Grahm & Bulaga. They would need to produce big time this year and even then, maybe only Grahm sticks.

Coldworld's picture

The offense in the Philbin era was far from stale. Let’s give the old new guy a chance.

Nick Perry's picture

I gave you a thumbs up simply because I agree 100% with your 2nd sentence. IMO Gutekunst put more speed, more athleticism on this roster in one draft than Thompson did in his last 3 or 4. Now that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it's not that far off of a statement.

I'm also in a wait & see mode when it comes to McCarthy. Not only did McCarthy replace Bennett who I never thought was much of an OC with Philbin, but he also replaced several Offensive Coaches who all have new ideas. So McCarthy takes all these "New Ideas" and mixes it in with his ideas and takes the scrub brush to his playbook. I understand it's still going to be a McCarthy offense which if I remember correctly has pretty much ALWAYS been good enough, but now you have fresh ideas installed in the offense too. You also have the best RB group that they've had in years. I'll take Jones, Monty, and Williams and what they can do over Eddie Lacy all day. If one rookie WR steps up, Graham is used correctly, and Adams continues to improve like he has the last two seasons, and Cobb jut stays healthy to go with "12" behind center and you still have a top 5 offense.

I have a feeling the Packers are probably a year away from a SB, but IF the Packers had the same kind of production from this draft class as the Saints did last season anything is possible. I'm also a big believer in Pettine's defense. I think people are going to be surprised how dominate that Packers front will be. Daniels is made for a Mike Pettine defense and Clark is turning into a STUD right before our eyes. Wilkerson is playing for money so I think he'll be huge too. But the one I'm really curious about is Perry. Perry never wanted to switch to OLB when he was drafted and Thompson threw so much money at him there was no way he was going anywhere. He just might finally get a chance to pass rush with his hand in the dirt on passing downs with Pettine which might turn out to be a HUGE blessing.

Edit...And yes...Burks IS a good fit with GB. Especially when paired with the tackling machine Martinez.

Tundraboy's picture

Agree NP. I see big improvement. I liken it to preferring the blending complimentary talents to work together in the context of a system approach versus having a system (and I guess it's like saying fitting square pegs into round holes) that relies on drafting projects and having them learn a complicated system on the fly.

I think we all may be in for a pleasant surprise.

fthisJack's picture

even a 15 ranked defense would be a big improvement from the last few years. that in itself would get us back in the playoffs and sniffing SB.

KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

I'm with you on passing on Edmund's and Davenport. Been so long since having a tenacious pass rush. Nothing excites me more than a fierce pass rush.

However, Gute seems to have a plan and I am liking what he did in the draft. Then throw in the extra first next year.

stockholder's picture

Burks replaces Thomas. Nothing more. Rookies make mistakes. 3 down LB? Great expectations there. This just smells of expecting to much like the T. Davis pick. But I do see him as a better option than Thomas.

HankScorpio's picture

I sure hope Burks does more than replace a UDFA. And the reason expectations are high is that's he a 3rd round pick, not a 5th rounder.

Don't be surprised to see Burks take some snaps from Blake Martinez. DCs like to pay lip service to stopping the run first but they all know their paychecks depend on stopping the pass first. Martinez is not much help in doing that. You certainly expect that a 3rd round pick that was chosen specifically to cover does it better than a 4th rounder that was drafted with the understanding that he was probably going to be a coverage liability.

I think the Packers preferred front 6 on obvious pass downs will end up being Perry-Daniels-Clark-Wilkerson up front with Burks and Matthews standing up behind them. Maybe not in week 1. But before too long.

dobber's picture

"I think the Packers preferred front 6 on obvious pass downs will end up being Perry-Daniels-Clark-Wilkerson up front with Burks and Matthews standing up behind them."

I think you'll see Wilkerson play inside often on obvious passing downs (which will help keep Clark and Daniels fresh) and you'll see a rotation of Gilbert, CMIII, and Biegel on the edge...that still puts CMIII in that rover role fairly frequently, where I think he'll contribute more and stay healthier.

Coldworld's picture

Actually he replaces Burnett and, last year, then Jones (who is being kept at safety)

croatpackfan's picture

He fits good because of:

1. He was drafted by Green Bay;
2. His athleticism looks promising;
3. He is willing to play for Packers;
4. We have DC who will put him in win situation by game plan;
5. Because it is dead season and you do not have nothing else to write...

PAPackerbacker's picture

I have a lot of faith in this young man's athletic abilities and also his willingness to learn from the veterans. He is a gifted athlete. I have him picked as a diamond in the rough and his coverage skills are exactly what the Packers needed. Go Pack Go!

cheesycowboy's picture

With the popularity of NASCAR, the LV Knights and gambling,
will the NFL promote sponsorship on jerseys and inside betting?
Takes us to August...

Since '61's picture

I think Burks will bring more speed and athleticism to our ILB position however I am concerned about his size.

I don't see Burks as a 3 down player. More likely he will come in on passing downs to cover TEs and RBs. He could also be used to rush the passer. Hopefully he will be able to hold up from the pounding he will take on running plays and that he will be able to get off the blocks. If not he may become one of our many players with plenty of potential but oft injured.

I'm expecting Pettine to start off in a defined role and go from there. Thanks, Since '61

fthisJack's picture

i don't think Burks size will be an issue. he's 6'3" and 233 pounds. most of these guys add 10 to 15 pounds of good weight when they come in. so 243 with his athleticism would be ideal.

holmesmd's picture

I agree’61, the young man looks a bit light in the britches per the eye test. Love the other metrics and football IQ though. To be honest though, Burks reminds me physically of Shazier quite a bit. We all know what a Packer draft crush and stud he ended up being! I still get choked up when watching the play he got hurt on. Man, life can be a real **tch!:(( Anyway, Burks will gain 15 lbs in a year or 2. He has the potential to become Willis or Bowman like as he matures. I think he has all the tools to be as impactful as R Smith for the Bears, despite draft position. Time will tell but I’m a big fan of Burks pick. He’s just young and looks a bit lite in the pants to play 3 down inside backer IMO.

Tundraboy's picture

Agree Since 61. And if his defined role is to help fix that gaping hole in the middle of the field, I'm all for it.

Chuck Farley's picture

We've seen this story before: New guys you must rely on to make your season. This ain't draft and development this is draft and hope. If both the 1 and two can't cut it, looks to be a long trying season.

dobber's picture

"New guys you must rely on to make your season. "

It's the modern NFL, brought to you by the CBA and largely unguaranteed contracts. Young guys on cheap contracts need to play and play well. Every team relies on it. The days of 20+ starters on offense and defense playing together more than a year or maybe two ended in the 1990s.

"This ain't draft and development this is draft and hope."

I don't think there's really any difference between those. It's the reason for the volatile nature of nfl performance and parity in the league.

Chuck Farley's picture

Let's hope gutt didn't screw up passing on real talent available at 14. Coulda woulda shoulda?

Bure9620's picture

I like the idea here, but even if Burks is more athletic and more suited for coverage in the middle of the field (where we were routinely carved up), diagnosing NFL route concepts can be tricky for a rookie, particularly one whom has not played much off ball LB or even played coverage from this position. I expect him to show promise is many areas, and also get completely burned on some plays similar to Josh Jones last year.

holmesmd's picture

He knew every assignment on Vandy’s defense. He made all the calls and lined everyone up. You think “HE” is the guy to worry about with assignment diagnosis? You mean Ryan would do better? Lol. I don’t understand that at all. This guy has Martinez smarts with Josh Jone’s size and athleticism. He’ll get bigger and stronger but I really like the young man’s demeanor and focus. He’s gonna be a gamer IMO.

Bure9620's picture

Never suggested Ryan would be better at all, Jake Ryan has his hands full to make the 53. I am pumping the breaks on Burks as he has barely played the position let alone has had to diagnose whats coming at him. That comes with experience, not neccessarily being smart.

holmesmd's picture

Fair enough but I don’t think being “smart” is a negative. ALL NFL players benefit from experience, right?

Rossonero's picture

It's all about twitch and play speed over throwback traits nowadays. Burks represents that shift.

Ironically, I remember Martinez coming out of the draft with one of the better coverage ratings among LBs, but he's more of a slower twitch athlete.

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"A school without football is in danger of deteriorating into a medieval study hall. "
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