Why the Packers will start draft with a LB

Their free agent shopping cart filled to the brim, the Green Bay Packers can focus on filling another cart with draft picks. With the draft still more than two weeks away, it appears obvious that the Packers will use their first of 11 selections on a linebacker.<p>

Coach and general manager Mike Sherman has been intent this off-season on repairing the Packers' soggy run-defense. The Packers have been inconsistent the last two seasons in that area. Though Sherman's free agency plan nearly backfired when other teams made strong offers for defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and linebacker Na'il Diggs, both of whom were restricted free agents, the Packers were able to retain both players, which should fortify the Packers' run-defense.

Green Bay didn't fork out more than $73 million in contracts this spring to three key players – Gbaja-Biamila, defensive tackle Cletidus Hunt and Diggs – for nothing. Along with the signing of Joe Johnson last year, the Packers are putting a lot of stock into the defensive line, and now Sherman is revamping two-thirds of the linebacking corp. If his plan goes as well as it did with the wide receivers last year, the run-defense will be much better than 21st overall in the league.

Diggs is coming off his best season as a pro, and Hannibal Navies should be an improvement over Hardy Nickerson in the middle. There's always a possibility that Torrance Marshall will take hold of the defensive scheme and reach the expectations many placed on him a few years ago. But the work is far from finished. The Packers still need another linebacker and it will be important that they take one with their first selection (28th overall) in order to complete their off-season overhaul of the linebackers.

Some insist that the Packers will select a quarterback to eventually succeed Brett Favre. Favre will play at least two more seasons, and the draft is deep with QBs. The Packers could use some of their picks to move up and take a QB in the second round, or it's possible that they'll get a decent QB in the third round.

Last year the Packers selected Javon Walker to cap off the wide receiver overhaul. This year, the Packers will hopefully take the best linebacker out there that's available, whether he plays inside or outside. The good thing about Navies, besides his name, is the fact that he can play inside and outside.

When Nate Wayne signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, Sherman came under criticism by fans for his off-season plan. It appeared that the Eagles were not only going to sign Wayne away from Green Bay but Gbaja-Biamila, and maybe Diggs as well. History prevailed – barely – with Green Bay's top restricted free agents. And there was a big sigh of relief by many at 1265 Lombardi Avenue when Gbaja-Biamila signed his contract.

Sherman has taken a different approach with free agency this year, yet he has been just as effective as in recent off-seasons. Right now the Packers are sitting pretty, with their top players under contract, and ready to load up with draft picks.

"The plan we have is a good plan," Sherman said. "I think any plan you have, you have to be flexible enough to address the situations as they come up, as they unfold, but you keep your focus on what your plan is. Maybe a little more patiently than I have in the past, but that's our process right now."

"The key here is you can't keep everybody every year. In the National Football League, there's transition, and there has to be transition every year. You are constantly looking to upgrade. ... We will have a very, very good football team when we kick this thing off in July."

Those have to be reassuring words to many Packers fans. Will the Packers be good enough to go deeper into the playoffs? Let's see how the draft unfolds, starting with a top-notch linebacker.


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