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Packers position preview: Linebackers

7/22/2014

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