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How does Packers LB Quay Walker fit into Jeff Hafley’s defense?

On Thursday, the Green Bay Packers officially introduced their new defensive coordinator, Jeff Hafley. Hafley spoke to reporters for over 28 minutes, discussing everything from why he decided to leave a head coaching job at Boston College to what attracted him to Green Bay and his core beliefs as a coach.

As expected, Hafley didn’t disclose many details about the scheme he’d be running, but one thing we do know is that the Packers are expected to implement a 4-3 style of base defense for the first time since 2008.

Of course, in today’s NFL, defenses spend most of their time in sub-packages. However, that doesn’t mean there won’t be some structural and philosophical differences.

In a 4-3 defense, there are four down linemen and three linebackers. Granted, there may not be much change in how Green Bay deploys its defensive line, but there will be some changes in what they ask from their linebackers.

Right now, the only linebacker we know that will be a staple on next year’s team is Quay Walker. After battling injuries for the past two seasons, De’Vondre Campbell is a candidate to get released this offseason, as his cap hit will also increase by more than double in 2024. Isaiah McDuffie played for Hafley at Boston College and has done a solid job filling in for an injured Campbell, but has only ever been a depth piece.

The Packers may decide to select a linebacker in this year’s draft, but they will eventually have to decide how to utilize Walker.

When specifically asked about the promising young linebacker, Hafley made some interesting comments about how he envisions him fitting into the defense.

“Quay is a talented player. As we build this thing, we’re going to make sure he’s in a position to make a lot of plays,” said Hafley. “So whatever we feel, as we piece this together, where that is, that’s where we’ll put him.”

Based on his size and speed, Walker’s best fit may be as the WILL linebacker.

Traditionally, the WILL lines up on the backside of formations, has to be quick enough to play sideline to sideline in the run game, can rush the passer, and can drop into coverage when needed.

We’ve seen Walker make good use of his 4.5 speed and ball carrier tracking over his first two seasons. His 239 tackles are the most on the team during that span, but so are his 24 missed tackles. From a pass-rushing standpoint, Walker was asked to fill that role more often in 2024 than he was as a rookie. As a result, he was more productive, finishing with career-highs in sacks and pressures.

In pass coverage, Walker still has room to improve. During last year’s regular season, he did return his first career interception for a touchdown in the season opener against the Chicago Bears but ended up allowing 45 receptions on 53 targets (84.9) for 10.4 yards per reception and two touchdowns, according to Pro Football Focus.

Walker certainly has shown flashes of why he was a first-round pick back in 2022. But his entire body of work hasn’t quite lived up to expectations.

Ideally, Walker will have less on his plate in Hafley’s system, allowing him to play freer and fly to the football without spending so much time in the A gap fighting off blocks. Putting Walker in position to be successful while in coverage is another question Hafley will have to answer. He’s plenty athletic to cover most running backs and tight ends, but there needs to be improvement in this area.

In the future, it will be interesting to see what Hafley has in store for Walker and how he plans to maximize his strengths.

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire