Green Bay Packers: Nate Palmer

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers could be in the market for another offensive lineman, whether it is through a trade, waiver claim or free agency.

If they were going to keep a fourth offensive tackle, it likely would have been first-year pro Aaron Adams, who spent all of last season on their practice squad. But the knee injury Adams sustained on the Packers' second play from scrimmage in Thursday's preseason finale against the Kansas City Chiefs turned out to be season-ending.

Adams tore both his ACL and MCL on the play, according to a league source. When the Packers make their final cuts on Saturday, Adams will be placed on injured reserve.

The Packers have eight offensive linemen who are locks to make the final cut. One of those eight, projected starting center JC Tretter, won't be able to play for at least the first month of the season because of the knee injury he sustained last week.

That would leave the Packers with only two healthy backups, tackle Derek Sherrod and guard Lane Taylor.

The Packers have at least two other injuries from the preseason finale to consider before Saturday's cuts. Rookie defensive end Khyri Thornton sustained a hamstring injury that his agent, Rodney Edwards, said on Friday could keep the third-round pick out for a few weeks. Also, second-year linebacker Nate Palmer sustained a knee injury, but the severity was not known.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- In perhaps a last-ditch effort to see if Carl Bradford is worth keeping on the roster, the Packers moved the fourth-round pick to inside linebacker on Monday.

It was the first time the rookie has lined up anywhere other than outside linebacker since the Packers picked him at No. 121 overall in May.

But after an unproductive training camp and three unimpressive preseason outings at outside linebacker, this could be Bradford's best way to find a role on the team.

"He's been able to pick up the playbook, but what we're looking for is just being able to transfer that on the field as far as production," linebackers coach Winston Moss said Monday. "I know there's a high concern for that. I'm pretty sure he's aware of that, and I'm pretty sure he's had to address it as well."

A former defensive end at Arizona State, Bradford seemed more suited to play inside given his size (6-foot-1, 252 pounds) than as an edge rusher in the NFL. So perhaps the only surprise in seeing him line up at inside linebacker during Monday's practice was that the Packers waited this long.

"I liked it," Bradford said. "I like coming downhill and opposing those tackles and guards and smashing those running backs."

It's crowded group at outside linebacker, especially with the emergence of undrafted rookie Jayrone Elliott (who is tied for the NFL lead in preseason sacks with four), and Bradford is likely no better than seventh or eight on the depth chart at that spot.

But the inside linebacker spot is much thinner behind starters A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones. The top backups are Jamari Lattimore and Sam Barrington. After that, it's wide open. Not only did Bradford take snaps there on Monday but so did second-year outside linebacker Nate Palmer.

"When you look at Brad Jones and Jamari Lattimore … these guys all started outside and next thing you know they're our inside linebackers," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "And those guys have been productive for us inside."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Nearly a month into training camp, it is apparent that at least two healthy members of the Green Bay Packers' recent draft class won't be able to help them much -- if at all -- this season.

So what does general manager Ted Thompson do with linebacker Carl Bradford and cornerback Demetri Goodson?

He might be willing to hang onto the fourth- and sixth-round picks, respectively, anyway.

When asked this week whether he's more inclined to give a draft pick a little longer to develop than he would a player off the street, Thompson admitted: "Maybe a smidgen."

Thompson has cut ties with only one fourth-pick pick as a rookie, receiver Cory Rodgers in 2006, and he has kept 11 of his 14 sixth-round picks as rookies.

However, a realistic look at the depth chart at both positions would indicate that Bradford might be no better than the eighth outside linebacker on the roster. The Packers likely won't keep more than 10 linebackers combined counting both inside and outside backers. It goes without saying that Bradford ranks behind Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Mike Neal and Nick Perry. Based on playing time, Andy Mulumba and Nate Palmer also rank ahead of him. And based on production, undrafted rookies Jayrone Elliott and Adrian Hubbard might be as well.

"I believe in the kid," Packers linebackers coach Winston Moss said Tuesday. "He works hard. He's a great guy. He has a skill set that can help us out. It's only a matter of time before he shows up, and what you're going to anticipate seeing is a guy that can play the run very, very well and a guy that can be an effort-determined rusher to get to the passer. I think that's going to show up before it's all over."

From the moment the Packers drafted Bradford at No. 121 overall out of Arizona State, it seemed he might be better suited to play inside linebacker. At 6-foot-1 and 252 pounds, he is the shortest outside linebacker on the roster and the second lightest among those he's competing against for a spot.

To date, however, Bradford has not taken a single snap at inside linebacker.

Still, that could end up being his eventual position. Moss would not rule it out.

"I can't judge what position he's going to be playing, I'll leave it at that," Moss said. "He's working hard. I think we've done well in the past being able to convert outside backers to the inside, but we'll see what happens."

And then there's Goodson, who played three years of college basketball at Gonzaga before he transferred to Baylor to play football. The Packers picked him at No. 197 overall knowing full well that he will need time to develop, but he might be further away than they thought.

"He has a ways to go," cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. "He's still a young player. We're in the work phase with him, teaching him the defense, teaching him just the base parts of it."

There are at least five cornerbacks -- Sam Shields, Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward, Davon House and Jarrett Bush -- ahead of Goodson. It's possible a sixth, Jumal Rolle, might be, too.

"But the great thing is we don't need him to play right now," Whitt said. "He has time to grow."

Still, Thompson will have to decide whether he can afford to let players develop while taking up a spot on the 53-man roster. Other than sixth-round pick Jared Abbrederis, the receiver who will be placed on injured reserve because of his knee injury, the Packers likely will keep the rest of their draft picks on the roster.

It might be a risk to cut Bradford or Goodson with the hope of getting them back on the practice squad. The other 31 teams would have a chance to put in a waiver claim before the Packers could do so.

"Most of the people outside this building are going to care if we win or lose," Thompson said. "So we better keep the best ones."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Several times since training camp opened, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy has praised his offensive line.

There was his proclamation on the eve of camp that it has the potential to be the best line in his tenure as head coach. He also had a statement this week that the line has been the consistent position group in practice.

If that's the case, then he also should feel good about his pass rushers because the latest data from the one-on-one pass blocking/pass rushing drill shows the defensive players are more than holding their own.

Last year, offensive linemen won 73 percent of the one-on-one reps. In 2012, their winning percentage was 75 percent. This year, the offense has won just 65 percent of the reps.

Last summer, Mike Daniels had the best mark among the defensive players at 16-16. Through two weeks of practice this year, the defensive tackle is even better at 9-6. Ten defensive players currently have a .500 record or better.

Defensive players occupy eight of the top-10 spots in our "Block Rating" category, a mark (explained below) developed by researcher Luke Stanke, a Green Bay native and graduate student at the University of Minnesota who has aided in statistical analysis of this drill in recent years.

The chart below shows the latest records and ratings.

It's interesting to note:
  • The number of reps in this drill already has surpassed the total from all of camp last summer. They have been 180 turns so far. In all of camp last year, there were 140. In 2012, there were just 103. It's clear the coaches like this drill as evaluation tool.
  • Perhaps the biggest surprise so far has been second-year outside linebacker Nate Palmer. After going 2-5 in the drill last summer as a rookie, Palmer is 5-2 and ranks third in the block rating.
  • The Packers have had success finding outside linebackers among their rookie free-agent class over the years, and Toledo's Jayrone Elliott could be following in the footsteps of Frank Zombo, Vic So’oto and Andy Mulumba. Elliott is 5-5 with wins over Derek Sherrod (twice), Don Barclay (twice) and Bryan Bulaga.
  • With Barclay lost for the season with a knee injury, it increases guard Lane Taylor's chances of making the team. The Packers are likely to keep at least eight offensive linemen, and Taylor ranks sixth overall among them.
  • JC Tretter has taken every rep as the starting center but in this drill, he is in a virtual tie with rookie backup Corey Linsley.
  • Guard Josh Sitton has not taken a rep in this drill since last Thursday even though he has been a regular participant in practice. He said he wants to ease the wear and tear on his back.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Between now and the Green Bay Packers' first training camp practice on Saturday, we will break down each position group.

Next up, linebackers.

Returning players: A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones, Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Mike Neal, Nate Palmer, Andy Mulumba, Jamari Lattimore, Sam Barrington

Gone from last season: Victory Aiyewa, Robert Francois

New this season: Julius Peppers (free agent), Carl Bradford (fourth-round pick), Jake Doughty (undrafted rookie), Joe Thomas (undrafted rookie), Jayrone Elliott (undrafted rookie), Adrian Hubbard (undrafted rookie), Shaun Lewis (undrafted rookie)

Position coach: Winston Moss (ninth season)

Biggest issue: The Packers are banking on the 34-year-old Peppers to give them another pass-rushing threat. To do so, they plan to play him at outside linebacker in their 3-4 scheme. It's the first time they have had a bona fide pass-rushing threat opposite Matthews. What does that mean for Neal and Perry, who combined to play nearly 1,200 snaps at outside linebacker last season? Defensive coordinator Dom Capers might be wise to find a healthy rotation between Peppers, Perry and Neal in order to keep them fresh and effective.

Player to watch: The Packers gave Lattimore the lowest restricted free agent tender offer ($1.431 million), but that does not mean he's an afterthought. Capers would like to get the fourth-year pro more involved in certain packages even if he sticks with Hawk and Jones as his starting inside linebackers.

Medical report: Matthews sat out all of the offseason practices while recovering from the second of two surgeries on his broken right thumb. Perry, who missed time last season because of foot and ankle injuries, also did not practice at all this offseason.

Help wanted: While there may not be any starting jobs up for grabs, the competition will be heated, especially at outside linebacker. In addition to Peppers, Matthews, Neal and Perry, the Packers have two other players -- Palmer and Mulumba -- who saw playing time last season. Combine that with the addition of Bradford and Hubbard, and it looks like a loaded group.

Quotable: "There’s only two guys on the field at a time, and it'll be the best two," Moss said of the outside linebackers. "Those other guys are going to have to fight for it. That's why we have an offseason. That's why we have a process. That's why we have a training camp. The guys that prove themselves and are reliable and make plays, they'll be the guys that are going to play."

Previous installments

July 14: Quarterbacks

July 15: Running backs

July 16: Receivers

July 17: Tight ends

July 18: Offensive line

July 21: Defensive line
Examining the Green Bay Packers' roster:

Quarterbacks (3)
The Packers have not kept three quarterbacks on their opening-day roster since 2008, but they might be inclined to do so this season in order to avoid a situation like last year, when Rodgers broke his collarbone. Coach Mike McCarthy is high on Tolzien, who made two starts last season, but Flynn has proved he can win as a backup in Green Bay.

Running backs (4)

The return of Harris, who missed all of last season because of a knee injury, gives the Packers insurance behind Lacy and Starks. Kuhn is valuable both as a fullback and on special teams. It's possible they'll keep a fourth halfback, but the loss of Johnathan Franklin to a career-ending neck injury has left them without a strong in-house candidate for that spot.

Receivers (6)

The Packers often keep only five receivers, but given that they drafted three -- Adams (second round), Abbrederis (fifth round) and Janis (seventh round) -- there's a good chance they will keep six. Abbrederis and Janis will not only have to show they're better prospects than second-year pros Myles White and Chris Harper, but they also could help themselves if they can return kicks.

Tight ends (4)

McCarthy likes tight ends (he has kept five before), and the wild card is undrafted rookie Colt Lyerla.

Offensive linemen (8)

The Packers typically only activate seven offensive linemen on game day, so they can get away with keeping just eight on the roster. Barclay's ability to play all five positions also allows them some freedom. Lane Taylor could be the ninth lineman if they go that route.

Defensive line (7)

Worthy and Guion have work to do to make the roster, but there's room for them if you count Julius Peppers and Mike Neal among the outside linebackers, which is where they lined up more often in the offseason.

Linebackers (8)

There will be some tough cuts here. Second-year pros Nate Palmer and Andy Mulumba both played last year as rookie outside linebackers. It also may be tough for highly touted undrafted rookie Adrian Hubbard to make it.

Cornerbacks (6)

Hayward's return from last season's hamstring injury means he likely will return as the slot cornerback in the nickel package, a role played last year by Micah Hyde (who may primarily play safety this year).

Safeties (4)

The major question here is whether Hyde or Clinton-Dix will be the starter alongside Burnett. Chris Banjo, who played primarily on special teams last season, might be the odd man out.

Specialists (3)

There's no competition at any of these spots.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Let's get this out of the way from the top: We know Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson does not draft for need -- or so he says.

But in the months leading up to this week's draft, Thompson and his scouts have spent hundreds of hours not only discussing the prospects who will be available to them but also their current roster and its strengths and weaknesses.

With that in mind, let's break the 12 position groups that make up the roster into four parts based on the following categories of draft needs.

We will define them this way:

Part 1: Negligible -- positions where there is little or no need.

Part 2: Non-essential -- positions where there is a need but it is not paramount to fill.

Part 3: Secondary -- positions where there is a need but not at the critical level.

Part 4: Pressing -- positions where it is imperative that help be found.

On Monday, we looked at the negligible needs, Nos. 10-12.

Next up are the nonessential needs.

7. Quarterback: It's too early to start thinking about a replacement for Aaron Rodgers, who turned 30 last December and is under contract through 2019, but they need to find the next Matt Flynn -- a long-term backup who can be counted on to win games just in case. Flynn is back under a one-year deal, but coach Mike McCarthy has said he would like to develop a young quarterback. Is that Scott Tolzien? Perhaps, but don't be surprised if they bring in a mid-to-late-round quarterback.

Possible players of interest: AJ McCarron, Alabama; Tom Savage, Pittsburgh; David Fales, San Jose State; Keith Wenning, Ball State; Brock Jensen, North Dakota State.

8. Cornerback: The Packers committed to Sam Shields this offseason with a four-year, $39 million contract just as free agency opened, but veteran Tramon Williams is in the final year of his contract. Casey Hayward is expected to be back from the hamstring injury that ruined his 2013 season, and there's depth with Micah Hyde, Davon House and James Nixon, although Hyde may move to safety. If the right corner fell to the Packers, Thompson might jump at the chance.

Possible players of interest: Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State; Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech; Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State; Keith McGill, Utah; Stan Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska.

9. Outside linebacker: Like defensive end, this is another position where there's plenty of talent depending on who lines up where. Beyond Pro Bowler Clay Matthews, there's Julius Peppers (who will play a combination DL-OLB), former first-round pick Nick Perry, former second-round pick Mike Neal and second-year players Andy Mulumba and Nate Palmer.

Possible players of interest: Anthony Barr, UCLA; Kyle Van Noy, BYU; Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech; Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- With the bulk of the free-agent work done, it's a good time to recheck the Green Bay Packers' depth chart leading up to the May 8-10 NFL draft.

On Thursday, we broke down the way things look on offense.

Next up is the defense:

Defensive end: Datone Jones, Josh Boyd, Jerel Worthy.

[+] EnlargeDatone Jones
AP Photo/Morry GashThe Packers are counting on defensive end Datone Jones to rebound in his second season.
Analysis: The Packers have high hopes for Jones despite a disappointing rookie season in which the former first-round pick was slowed by an ankle injury and recorded just 3.5 sacks (two of which came in one game). "I feel he's one of those second-year players who [can] take a huge jump," coach Mike McCarthy said of Jones earlier this offseason. "That will be my expectations for him." Boyd, a fifth-round pick, actually saw more playing time late last season than Jones. Worthy played in only two games a year after he blew out his knee.

Defensive tackle: B.J. Raji, Mike Daniels, Letroy Guion.

Analysis: Moving Raji back to nose tackle on a full-time basis should help his production, which declined sharply over the last three years following a move to defensive end. Daniels was perhaps the team's most improved player last season, which should lead to an even bigger role this season. Guion, who was cut the Minnesota Vikings, will have to battle for a roster spot.

Elephant: Julius Peppers, Nick Perry, Mike Neal.

Analysis: Elephant is a catch-all term for the multiple positions this trio will play. They will be part outside linebacker, part defensive end and part defensive tackle. The addition of Peppers, who was signed last month after being released by the Chicago Bears, should boost the pass rush. Expect Perry to play more on the right side this season, where he was far more impactful last season. These players will actually be tutored by linebackers coach Winston Moss.

Inside linebacker: A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones, Jamari Lattimore, Sam Barrington, Victor Aiyewa.

Analysis: Hawk had perhaps his best season last year, but Jones was a disappointment after signing a three-year, $11.75 million contract and could be on shaky ground for a starting job. Lattimore, a restricted free agent who has yet to sign his tender, got some playing time last year while Jones was hurt and could push for the starting job. So could Barrington, a promising rookie who missed the second half of the season because of a hamstring injury.

Outside linebacker: Clay Matthews, Andy Mulumba, Nate Palmer, Chase Thomas.

Analysis: Neal and Perry played almost exclusively at outside linebacker last season, so there's a good chance they'll be a big part of this group again. But behind Matthews are a couple of second-year players, Mulumba and Palmer, who played more than anyone expected last year as a rookies. Mulumba, an undrafted free agent, played better than Palmer, a sixth-round pick. Thomas was signed early in the offseason off the street after spending most of last season on the Atlanta Falcons' practice squad.

Safeties: Morgan Burnett, Sean Richardson, Chris Banjo.

Analysis: Easily the thinnest position on the roster, there's still likely to be several additions here, probably via the draft. However, McCarthy said cornerback Micah Hyde will get some work at safety. Whether he's a candidate to start next to Burnett (a strong safety), however, remains to be seen. Burnett needs to bounce back from a disappointing season, but there's little reason to think his job is in jeopardy. Richardson returned late last season from a serious neck injury and showed promise. Banjo played more early in the season than he did late last year.

Cornerbacks: Sam Shields, Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward, Micah Hyde, Jarrett Bush, Davon House, James Nixon, Jumel Rolle, Antonio Dennard.

Analysis: This is among the Packers' deepest positions thanks to the return of Shields, who signed a four-year, $39 million contract, and Hayward, who is expected to be healthy after a hamstring injury limited him to just three games last season. Williams closed the season playing perhaps as well as he did during the Super Bowl season of 2010, which is why they kept him despite a $7.5 million salary. Bush had his best season in coverage last year, while House was a disappointment. Nixon's speed makes him an intriguing prospect. Rolle was promoted from the practice squad late last season, while Dennard joined the practice squad late last season.
A roundup of what's happening on the Green Bay Packers beat.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- National signing day for college football doesn't register high on the NFL's radar, but Packers cornerback Micah Hyde -- who just completed his rookie season -- had some advice for those who were making their college choices on Wednesday.

He should know. Hyde was not heralded by recruiting analysts coming out of Fostoria, Ohio, where he played multiple positions (including quarterback). Nevertheless, he went on to play at the University of Iowa and worked his way up to being a fifth-round pick and a highly productive player as a rookie both on defense and special teams.

Here's a look at where the players selected by the Packers in last year's draft were rated coming out of high school:

First round -- Datone Jones, North Carolina: Ranked 15th nationally at defensive end in the class of 2008 by ESPN; eighth at his position 125th overall nationally by Rivals.

Second round -- Eddie Lacy, Alabama: Ranked 17th at running back in the class of 2009 and 143rd overall in ESPN's Top 150; 13th at his position and 116th overall by Rivals.

Fourth round -- David Bakhtiari, Colorado: Offensive lineman was not ranked by either ESPN or Rivals, although he was listed in both recruiting databases.

Fourth round -- JC Tretter, Cornell: Offensive lineman was not even listed in either ESPN or Rivals databases.

Fourth round -- Johnathan Franklin, UCLA: Ranked 86th at running back in the class of 2008 by ESPN; 16th at his position and 185th overall nationally by Rivals.

Fifth round -- Micah Hyde, Iowa: Ranked 113th among quarterbacks in the class of 2009 by ESPN, not ranked by Rivals.

Fifth round -- Josh Boyd, Mississippi State: Ranked 37th at defensive tackle in the class of 2009 by ESPN; 15th at his position and 180th overall by Rivals.

Seventh round -- Nate Palmer, Illinois State (began at Illinois): Ranked 74th at outside linebacker in the class of 2008 by ESPN; 55th at his position by Rivals.

Seventh round -- Charles Johnson, Grand Valley State (began at Eastern Kentucky): Receiver was not even listed in the ESPN or Rivals databases.

Seventh round -- Kevin Dorsey, Maryland: Ranked 57th at wide receiver in the class of 2008 by ESPN; 19th at his position and 154th overall by Rivals.

Seventh round -- Sam Barrington, South Florida: Ranked 47th at outside linebacker in the class of 2009 by ESPN; not ranked by Rivals.
In case you missed it on
  • Former Packers safety Nick Collins said he’s definitely interesting in trying to resurrect his career, which was cut short by a 2011 neck injury. In a phone interview, he said: “I’m 100 percent healed from the surgery, so if teams want to bring me in and get me evaluated by their doctors -- or whatever doctors they want me to go see -- then I'll do that for them.”
  • Collins, however, admitted that a return to the Packers was unlikely.
  • Although the Packers still have not officially named running backs coach Alex Van Pelt as their new quarterbacks coach, Aaron Rodgers expects the transition to go smoothly.
  • Speaking of new position coaches, the Packers haven’t hired a replacement for the recently resigned Kevin Greene. But whoever it is will need more natural outside linebackers to work with than Greene had.
Best of the rest:
  • At, Jason Wilde wrote that the Packers were interested in Wisconsin running backs coach Thomas Hammock for Van Pelt’s old job, but the Baltimore Ravens beat them to it and hired him.
  • In the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Pete Dougherty wrote that it will be expensive to retain cornerback Sam Shields, who is scheduled to become a free agent next month.
  • In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, writers Tyler Dunne and Bob McGinn discussed multiple topics in their latest podcast.


Next OLB coach needs natural fits

February, 5, 2014
Feb 5
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers have yet to name a replacement for outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene, who unexpectedly resigned last month.

Whomever coach Mike McCarthy hires, it will behoove him and general manager Ted Thompson to give Greene’s replacement some players who are natural fits for the position.

In his five seasons on the coaching staff, Greene often had the difficult task of trying to convert defensive ends into outside linebackers.

Take last year’s group, for example. Of the five outside linebackers on the roster for the entire season, only Clay Matthews played linebacker in college.

Although Greene made some progress with Nick Perry, the Packers’ 2012 first-round pick, it remains to be seen whether Perry will ever fully excel at outside linebacker after playing defensive end in college at USC.

Greene was keen enough to suggest that Mike Neal, a former second-round pick who played defensive end in his first three NFL seasons, should move to outside linebacker last offseason. The move worked out perhaps better than could have been expected, but the transition had to be arduous work on the part of both the player and the coach. Neal produced five sacks, including four in the final seven regular-season games, and also set career highs in tackles and interceptions.

The other two outside linebackers in Greene’s group were a pair of rookies: Nate Palmer (sixth-round pick) and Andy Mulumba (undrafted). Both played defensive end in college, Palmer at Illinois State and Mulumba at Eastern Michigan.

Even for perhaps the best outside linebacker to ever play the position (Greene’s 160 career sacks rank third overall and first among outside linebackers), it was asking a lot to turn some of those players into natural fits at the position.

Although Greene stated the desire to spend more time with his family as his reason for stepping aside, it’s worth wondering if he became frustrated by the difficult task of regularly converting defensive ends into outside linebackers.

Either way, it’s an important position for McCarthy to fill. Finding and/or developing another outside linebacker to complement Matthews will be an important part of improving upon a defensive that ranked 25th out of 32 teams last season.

It’s one of at least four openings McCarthy has on his staff this offseason. A year after he retained all 20 members of his coaching staff, McCarthy also lost quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo (who left to the become the New York Giants offensive coordinator), assistant special teams coach Chad Morton (who was not retained, according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette) and assistant strength and conditioning coach Zac Woodfin (who left to become the strength coach at UAB, his alma mater).

Running backs Alex Van Pelt will take over for McAdoo, but the change has not yet been made public. Typically, McCarthy waits until all of his open positions are filled before he announces the changes.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- We’re in the second week of our position-by-position look at what the Green Bay Packers have and what they need.

We can revisit this process before the draft based on what -- if anything -- general manager Ted Thompson does in free agency.

So far, we’ve looked at quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, tight ends, offensive tackles, centers/guards and defensive linemen.

Next up, linebackers.

2014 free agents: Mike Neal, Robert Francois and Jamari Lattimore (restricted free agent).

The good: Inside linebacker A.J. Hawk had perhaps his best season. The ultra-reliable veteran led the Packers in tackles and posted a career-high five sacks. On the outside, Clay Matthews, when healthy, was productive. Neal, who made the transition from defensive end, showed some promise. Rookies Andy Mulumba and Nate Palmer look like developmental prospects on the outside, while Lattimore and Sam Barrington could be the same at the inside positions.

The bad: The twice-broken thumb that cost Matthews five regular-season games plus the playoffs left the Packers without a key playmaker at a position that is supposed to make big plays in coordinator Dom Capers’ defense. Thompson also made major investments in two players -- inside linebacker Brad Jones and outside linebacker Nick Perry -- and neither one paid off. He gave Jones a three-year, $11.75 million contract that included a $3 million signing bonus and then cut Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith to hand Jones the starting job. Two years ago, Thompson used a first-round pick on Perry, who played defensive end in college. The transition to outside linebacker has been anything but smooth and has been slowed by injuries.

The money: The Packers have more salary-cap space committed to linebacker ($18.7 million so far) than any other position for 2014. Matthews, who signed a five-year, $66 million contract extension last offseason, accounts for $6.71 million of that followed by Hawk ($5.2 million) and Jones ($2.5 million). Neal would be the only impending free agent who might command any kind of significant money, and it remains to be seen whether the Packers intend to re-sign him.

Draft priority: The Packers need playmakers on defense, but this position might rank behind safety and defensive line in terms of importance.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- On Monday, we began our rankings of the Green Bay Packers' roster as it stood at season’s end.

We began at the bottom, ranking players 51 through 64.

The rankings are based on how the players performed this season -- not on their overall importance to the team.

Now, we look at Nos. 41 through 50:

41. Datone Jones, DE: Drafted in the first round (No. 26 overall), Jones was supposed to give coordinator Dom Capers a three-down player who could stop the run and rush the passer. Instead, he almost never played in obvious run situations and was limited almost exclusively to rushing the passer in the dime package. Even those snaps dwindled late in the season. He had just 3.5 sacks, two of which came in the same game. By season’s end, fifth-round pick Josh Boyd was playing more. Actually showed a little flash in some snaps lined up as an outside linebacker late in the year.

42. Brandon Bostick, TE: Converted small-college wide receiver made the roster after spending all of last season on the practice squad. Improved as a blocker, but still has a long way to go and showed flashes of his athleticism in the passing game after Jermichael Finley's season-ending neck injury. Averaged a team-high 17.1 yards per reception, but had only seven catches before a broken foot ended his season in Week 15. Could develop into a downfield threat. Dropped three passes in 10 catchable targets, according to

43. C.J. Wilson, DE: Fourth-year pro was surpassed as a run-stopping starting defensive end by the return of Johnny Jolly and was inactive eight times, only three of which were injury-related. Unrestricted free agent won’t command much attention, and could return for a minimum salary.

44. Scott Tolzien, QB: Signed to the practice squad on Sept. 2 and promoted to the roster on Nov. 6, two days after Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone, he was pressed into action the next week following Seneca Wallace's groin injury. Played well enough against the Eagles in relief to earn two more starts before giving way to Matt Flynn when Tolzien struggled against the Vikings. Showed good arm strength, but threw five interceptions in a six-quarter stretch against the Eagles and Giants. Needs a full offseason under the tutelage of coach Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Tom Clements, and could be a possible long-term backup.

45. Myles White, WR: Skinny but elusive rookie was promoted from the practice squad on Oct. 15 after injuries to Randall Cobb and James Jones. In just his second game, he caught five passes for 35 yards on Oct. 27 against the Vikings. Playing time diminished greatly after Jones returned, and was placed on injured reserve after suffering a torn meniscus in his knee on Dec. 8 against the Falcons. Should be in the mix for a roster spot again next season.

46. M.D. Jennings, S: Probably would have been replaced -- a la Jerron McMillian, who was cut on Dec. 3 -- if Capers had any better options. Saw his playing time reduced late in the season when Sean Richardson received more snaps. Missed nine tackles, tied for the third most on the team, and allowed a team-high five touchdown passes, according to Scheduled to be a restricted free agent, he won’t be offered any more than the lowest tender -- if he’s tendered at all.

47. Chris Banjo, S: Undersized rookie who was signed a few days into training camp, made the team because of his speed, willingness to hit and intelligence. Factored more on special teams, where he ranked second on the team with 10 tackles. On defense, after some rotational play at the midway point of the season, he played only 11 snaps combined over the final six games. Could develop into a full-time player, but his height (5-foot-10) will always be a limitation.

48. Victor Aiyewa, LB: Promoted from the practice squad on Nov. 27, he had last been in the NFL in the 2011 season with the Buccaneers. Did not play on defense but was in for 51 percent of the special teams snaps over the final six games and finished tied for sixth with five special teams tackles.

49. Nate Palmer, OLB: Rookie sixth-round pick was bypassed on the depth chart by undrafted free agent Andy Mulumba. Did not play on defense after the Nov. 17 game against the Giants and was inactive for six of the last seven games.

50. Lane Taylor, G: One of three undrafted free agents to make the opening-day roster, he played just 14 snaps on offense over three games. Appeared in a total of 10 games, mostly on special teams.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- In 16 regular-season games plus the NFC wild-card playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers, the Green Bay Packers’ special teams was on the field for 511 plays, according to weekly snap counts kept by the NFL.

Special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum used 58 different players on his units this season. That was four more than in 2012 and explains why coach Mike McCarthy said all the personnel changes caused in large part by injuries caught up with the Packers’ special teams by year’s end.

The Packers finished the regular season ranked seventh in punt return average (thanks largely in part to rookie returner Micah Hyde) but just 30th in kickoff return average. Slocum’s units struggled in coverage, ranking 29th in both punt return and kickoff return average allowed.

The specialists -- kicker Mason Crosby, punter Tim Masthay and long-snapper Brett Goode -- all had strong seasons.

Davon House, who played a team-high 338 snaps on special teams, led the Packers with 12 special teams tackles.

Here are the snap-count leaders on special teams with playing-time percentages in parenthesis. We’re not going to list all 58 players, but rather those who appeared on at least 10 percent of all special teams plays this season. (Earlier, we looked at playing time for every player on offense and on defense this season):
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- In 16 regular-season games plus the NFC wild-card playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers, the Green Bay Packers’ defense was on the field for 1,115 plays, according to weekly snap counts kept by the NFL.

Not one player took them all.

Cornerback Tramon Williams came the closest, playing all but 14 snaps. The only other player with more than 1,000 snaps this season was linebacker A.J. Hawk, who played all but 57 snaps.

Last season, safety Morgan Burnett played every snap -- one of only four non-offensive linemen across the entire NFL to do so. This year, Burnett missed the first three games because of a hamstring injury. Upon his return, he played in 919 of a possible 921 snaps over the final 14 games.

The Packers used 30 players on defense, two more than they did in 2012.

Here are the total snap counts on defense with playing-time percentages in parenthesis (the offensive breakdown was posted earlier and special teams is still to come):

Defensive line: Linebackers: Defensive backs:
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Two Green Bay Packers' starting defensive players sustained knee injuries on the San Francisco 49ers' opening drive of Sunday's NFC wild-card game at Lambeau Field.

Cornerback Sam Shields sustained a left knee injury and outside linebacker Mike Neal injured his right knee on the same drive.

Both were carted to the locker room and were questionable to return.

Shields was replaced by Davon House.

The loss of Neal is particularly costly because the Packers went into the game with only three outside linebackers. Clay Matthews is out with a thumb injury, while rookie Nate Palmer was a healthy scratch. It leaves them with only Nick Perry and Andy Mulumba unless Neal can return. Perry is playing on a bad foot, and his snaps have been limited in recent weeks.