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Draft decisions likely mean Clay Matthews stays at inside linebacker

5/2/2015
The Packers didn't draft anyone to fill in for Clay Matthews at inside linebacker. Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/ Getty Images

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It looks like the Green Bay Packers have no problem with playing Clay Matthews at inside linebacker again this season.

What else can you conclude after general manager Ted Thompson went three rounds into the 2015 NFL draft without picking a player at that position?

"I don't know that it means that," Thompson said when asked if his five-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker will split his time between the inside and outside spots, as he did in the second half of 2014.

But as Thompson said, "I'm not the defensive coordinator."

What other options does defensive coordinator Dom Capers have, after Thompson picked cornerback Damarious Randall from Arizona State in Thursday's first round (30th overall), followed by Friday's picks of cornerback Quinten Rollins from Miami (Ohio) in the second round (62nd overall) and receiver/kick returner Ty Montgomery from Stanford in the third round (94th overall)?

Matthews almost certainly will start the season at inside linebacker, next to Sam Barrington in Capers' base 3-4 (and then move back outside in obvious passing situations), unless someone like last year's fourth-round pick, Carl Bradford, could make a major leap. Bradford, who was drafted as an outside backer but moved inside late in the preseason, did not play a single snap the past season.

Still, Thompson said Friday night that he feels "fine" about his inside linebacker situation.

Why?

"Because I'm a football guy," he said. "I don't know. I have confidence in the fellas that we have."

In his 11th draft as GM, Thompson could have gambled on TCU linebacker Paul Dawson, who was available at No. 94. But off-the-field issues (a failed drug test and tardiness for meetings) scared Thompson. Dawson's slow 40-yard dash time (4.93 seconds) probably didn't help, either. Dawson went 99th, as the final pick of the third round, to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Thompson either did not feel compelled to trade up for any of the second-round inside linebackers -- Mississippi State's Benardrick McKinney (43rd overall to the Houston Texans), UCLA's Eric Kendricks (45th to the Minnesota Vikings) or Miami's Denzel Perryman (48th to the San Diego Chargers) -- or couldn't find a fair deal to do so.

Even if the Packers find an inside linebacker worth taking at their turn on Saturday, when they have six picks over the final four rounds, there's almost no chance that player would be good enough to start the season opener against the Chicago Bears on Sept. 13.

So what does Thompson have after two days of drafting? A pair of cornerbacks who might not be able to -- or might not have to -- play right away and a receiver whose best chance to get on the field could be as a kick returner.

As with Randall, who played safety at Arizona State, there could be a significant adjustment time for Rollins, given that he played only one year of college football after four years of college basketball. Cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt wouldn't rule out either of them getting on the field right away but acknowledged it tends to be difficult for rookies.

"Corner is a hard position to come in and play as a rookie," Whitt said.

"I want to make sure we go out when we play the Bears the first game, that we're playing high-level football, OK?" Whitt added. "I don't want to get into where we're [starting] 2-3 again. No, we have a team that can win every game that we line up and play. I don't want to have a young guy or a guy that I'm responsible for to give up an explosive [play]. That's not what I'm looking for. So that's when I say playing good football, it's just difficult for corners to play high level. I mean, just go back and look at it. All the guys that are high level now, look at their rookie years. See where they were."