The inside scoop on the Packers’ situation at linebacker is dramatically different than it was a year ago at this time, when there was great uncertainty at the right outside linebacker spot opposite superstar Clay Matthews.
Entering this year’s training camp, Packers first-round draft pick Nick Perry already has established himself as the clear-cut starter opposite Matthews — with Perry presumably lining up on the strong (left) side and Matthews moving to the right side. Now, the uncertainty in the unit has emphatically shifted to the inside spots, specifically the position manned so ineffectively last season by A.J. Hawk after signing a new five-year deal on the eve of the NFL lockout.
The way we hear it, Hawk, a consistently weak link in coverage last season who was also typically a step slow against the run, could be on a pretty short leash, with second-year pro D.J. Smith having shown more than enough as a rookie to mount a serious challenge for the starting ILB job alongside Desmond Bishop.
It’s also worth noting the extra competition expected from LBs Brad Jones and Jamari Lattimore, who have moved inside this offseason after playing on the perimeter last season. Team sources agree that Jones, who's undersized like Smith, should not be discounted as a potential key contributor. Jones actually did a pretty solid job after grabbing the starting ROLB at the tail end of last season. He always has been decent against the run with good leverage, as well as being very tough and instinctive.