The Green Bay Packers don’t have one of the flashiest inside linebacker groups in the NFL, but the potential and depth within the group has Packers head coach Mike McCarthy excited.
“I think our inside linebacker depth is as good as we’ve had”, McCarthy said earlier this offseason. “This is definitely a real good group, and it’s competitive. Robert (Francois) is having a really good training camp, Sam (Barrington) is reckless. You never have enough good football players, and it is clearly a very competitive group”.
McCarthy said he believes the 2010 inside linebacker group, a group which helped the Packers win their 4th Super Bowl in franchise history, was the deepest group he has ever had in Green Bay. One respected player from the 2010 class, veteran Desmond Bishop, was released by the Packers earlier this offseason, and signed with the division-rival Minnesota Vikings.
“It speaks well about to the growth of our depth at the inside linebacker position”, General Manager Ted Thompson said after Bishop’s release. “We felt it was appropriate, but I probably wish he would’ve gone somewhere else”.
“I feel really good about it, and I think we have a real good room”, veteran A.J. Hawk said. “It is a little different dynamic, but we know where we have made some strides and where we need to get better”.
Hawk, who is entering his eighth season with the Packers, said it “sucks” seeing friends like Bishop and former linebacker D.J. Smith leave, but the goal remains the same. “We set such a high bar here in Green Bay”, Hawk said. “We are not just trying to get to the playoffs—we are trying to win it all”.
A.J. Hawk (6’1, 242, Eighth Year, Ohio State)
Hawk, the veteran of the Packers inside linebacker bunch, enters his eighth NFL season (all with Green Bay). The Packers fifth overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft hasn’t been the star which he was projected to be in the NFL coming out of Ohio State, but he nothing more than solid.
In seven NFL seasons, Hawk has 750 total tackles, 13.5 sacks, 28 deflected passes, eight interceptions, two forced fumbles, and four fumble recoveries. What is most impressive about Hawk is his durability, as he has only missed three out of 112 games in his entire NFL career.
“I don’t like sitting on the training table”, Hawk said. “They put a price on durability here (in Green Bay), and I’ve been really lucky to stay healthy”.
Hawk, who is 29 years old now, said he feels better than he did at 20. “I know how to take better care of myself”, Hawk said. “People may think I’m getting old, but I’m feeling like I’m starting to peak right now”.
The 6’1, 242-pound Hawk said he used to sit in the weight room at Ohio State and do “stupid stuff”. Hawk said he has changed his work out habits, which he said he believes has helped him prevent serious injuries during his NFL career.
“I’m going to play as long as I can”, Hawk said. “I love it, I’m having a great time, and I’m going to try and stay as long as I can”.
Brad Jones (6’3, 242, Fifth Year, Colorado)
Jones, arguably the most versatile and athletic linebacker in the Packers entire linebacker group, came through last season in relief of Bishop and Smith, who both suffered season-ending injuries in 2012.
“I think he is an athlete who can do it all”, Hawk said. “I don’t think there is a prototypical inside or outside linebacker today. If you can run, they can find a spot for you, and Brad (Jones) is one of those guys”.
In ten starts and 16 total games in 2012, Jones recorded a career high 77 tackles, while also registering two sacks and deflecting four passes.
The 6’3, 242-pound Jones first played outside linebacker for the Packers before shifting inside, and Jones knows how to play all four linebacker positions in the Packers defense. “It has helped broaden his spectrum as a linebacker”, McCarthy said about Jones switching from outside to inside linebacker. “It has really benefitted him, moving from the outside to the inside”.
Jones has played in 51 out of 64 NFL games, starting 23 games in his career. Jones was re-signed by the Packers in the offseason, shortly after entering free agency. “He is an awesome teammate, and you can’t measure that”, Hawk said. “He is very smart, fun to be on the field with, just fun everywhere, and that camaraderie is special”.
Robert Francois (6’2, 250, Fourth Year, Boston College)
Francois enters his fourth NFL season, primarily with the Packers. In 2009, the Minnesota Vikings signed Francois as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Boston College. The Vikings cut him a short time later, and Francois played for the Detroit Lions in the preseason.
Francois was later released by the Lions, and the Green Bay Packers signed Francois to the team’s practice squad in Week 14 of the 2009 season.
Francois has become a mainstay on special teams and a solid contributor at inside linebacker for the Packers, recording 34 tackles, two interceptions, and deflecting three passes in 35 career games.
Francois will compete with Brad Jones for the starting inside-linebacker job the remainder of training camp.
Sam Barrington (6’1, 235, Rookie, South Florida)
Barrington, a seventh round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, started 36 games in four seasons at the University of South Florida. In his career with the Bulls, Barrington recorded 258 tackles, 6.5 sacks, forced five fumbles, intercepted one pass, and deflected nine passes.
The Second-team All-Big East linebacker never lived up to his high expectations at South Florida, but Barrington should find a spot in Green Bay despite his 4.9 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine.
“We were surprised he was still available (in the seventh round)”, Thompson said. “He is athletic, has good size, and we think he is a pretty good player with good value”.
Jamari Lattimore (6’2, 237, Third Year, Middle Tennessee St.)
Lattimore, another versatile and athletic Packers linebacker, enters his third NFL season since making the Packers 2011 opening day roster as an undrafted rookie out of Middle Tennessee State. In two NFL seasons, Lattimore has appeared in 23 of 32 NFL games, recording 11 tackles primarily on special teams.
As a senior defensive end in college, Lattimore was named Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year after he registered 68 tackles, 15 tackles-for-loss, 11.5 sacks, and forcing two fumbles. Lattimore amassed 20 sacks in his Middle Tennessee State career—second best to former Packer Erik Walden.
Lattimore was out earlier in training camp due to illness.
Terrell Manning (6’2, 237, Second Year, North Carolina State)
Manning, a fifth round pick by the Packers in the 2012 NFL Draft, recorded three tackles primarily playing on special teams his rookie season.
The Packers backup inside linebacker left North Carolina State a year early after totaling 207 tackles, 26 tackles-for-loss, 10.5 sacks, five interceptions, and forcing five fumbles in his three-year career with the Wolfpack.
“He looks good, I thought he came on at the end of last year”, McCarthy said regarding Manning’s progress in training camp. “He is a natural special teams player, and he can make an impact”.
Favorites to Win Starting Jobs: Hawk, Jones
Favorite to Make the Team/Practice Squad: Hawk, Jones, Francois, Barrington, Manning
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