<
>

No answers yet for Packers at linebacker

3/24/2015

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The roster is so thin at inside linebacker that at this point it's nearly impossible to come up with a second starter for the Green Bay Packers.

In fact, the defensive depth chart at ESPN.com does not even list one.

And really, who else would you put next to Sam Barrington?

Carl Bradford?

Nate Palmer?

Neither has ever played an NFL regular-season game at that spot. In fact, Bradford has never played an NFL game at any spot. The fourth-round pick, who moved from inside linebacker during the final week of the preseason, was inactive for every game last season. Palmer also moved from inside linebacker in the final week of the preseason but went on season-ending injured reserve a week later because of a knee injury.

You could put Clay Matthews there, but Matthews surely would rather go back to outside linebacker on a full-time basis.

With A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones gone -- both were released last month -- and free-agent Jamari Lattimore unsigned, the options are few at this point.

"If you need this number of players at this position, then you figure out ways to acquire those players over time," Packers general manager Ted Thompson told reporters this week at the NFL annual meetings in Phoenix. "I don't think you jump in and try to do it the very next day. You plan it out, and this is not necessarily something that wasn't already planned out."

Surely, Thompson knew late last season, after watching Hawk and Jones get benched, that this was going to be a position of need for 2015. And in typical Thompson fashion, it appears the need will be filled through the draft. He would have liked C.J. Mosley in last year's draft, but the Baltimore Ravens took the Alabama linebacker four spots earlier. And besides, Thompson filled what was a more pressing need at the time with safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

If there's angst over the linebacker spot outside the organization, that does not appear to be the feeling from within.

"We have some people that can evaluate players, and we have coaches that coach them, and there we go," Thompson said. "And we've done this before at different positions."

Just last year, Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy remade both the defensive line and the safety spot. They let veteran defensive tackles Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly leave and then played all of last season without B.J. Raji. It could be argued that strategy failed, given their problems against the run, where they ranked dead last in the league halfway through the year and finished 23rd only after moving Matthews inside on early downs.

However, it worked at safety, where they successfully moved cornerback Micah Hyde and drafted Clinton-Dix in the first round.

"There's always the unknowns," Thompson said. "And there's always, 'We think this, but we're not certain about this,' and I understand that. But that's just part of the personnel business. You have to keep marching forward. You have to keep going, and you can't worry about every little bump in the road. You can't worry yourself to death [and say], 'Oh woe is me, what are we going to do about this, what are we going to do about that?'"