Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFL Nation [Print without images]

Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Countdown to combine: Packers part 3

By Rob Demovsky

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- As we head toward the NFL scouting combine, which starts Wednesday in Indianapolis, it’s a good time to look at the Green Bay Packers' greatest needs this offseason and which prospects general manager Ted Thompson might be taking a closer look at during workouts and interviews this week.

Which position is the greatest need could be debated, but there’s no arguing that it’s on the defensive side of the ball. Before things get underway at Lucas Oil Stadium, we’ll look at three areas on defense where the Packers need help.

Monday was dedicated to the safety position. On Tuesday, we looked at the defensive linemen.

We’ll wrap up the defensive side of the ball with the linebacker spots, both inside and outside.

Why the Packers need help: If the Packers are going to field a defense that at all resembles the units fielded by the NFC’s top two teams -- the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers -- they need to upgrade their linebackers. Specifically, they need more speed both on the outside and up the middle.

The Packers seem satisfied with A.J. Hawk but might be looking to upgrade the other inside spot, which was occupied most of last season by Brad Jones. The Packers gave Jones a three-year, $11.75 million deal that included a $3 million signing bonus.

On the outside, they continued their search for someone to complement Clay Matthews. Mike Neal’s conversion from defensive end went perhaps better than could have been expected. He had five sacks, including four in the last seven games, but is scheduled to be a free agent next month. For the second straight season, Nick Perry (a first-round pick in 2012) battled injuries and still hasn’t shown whether he’s a natural fit at outside linebacker.

Linebackers the Packers should be watching:

Chris Borland, Wisconsin: Probably the second-best inside linebacker in the draft behind Alabama’s C.J. Mosley, who almost certainly won’t be around when the Packers pick at No. 21. The only issue with Borland is that he’s a tad short at 5-foot-11, so he will need to have an impressive showing at the combine and his pro day in order to convince the Packers he can be effective.

Ryan Shazier, Ohio State: With the top two outside linebackers -- Buffalo’s Khalil Mack and UCLA’s Anthony Barr -- likely being top-10 picks, Shazier might be the best remaining option. But there are questions about whether he can rush the passer.

Michael Sam, Missouri: After revealing earlier this month that he is gay, Sam will be perhaps the most scrutinized player at the combine. Projected as a mid-round pick, teams will have to decide whether he can make the adjustment from defensive end to outside linebacker.