It's Not As Desperate As It Seems At OLB

Despite the apparent need for another standout pass rusher to help Clay Matthews, the Packers have gotten it done at the opposite linebacker spot the past two seasons with a host of players. Matt Tevsh lays out the telling numbers.

No position on the Green Bay Packers saw as many different changes in the base defense as the outside linebacker spot in 2010.

With a total of six players receiving at least one start during the course of the season due to injuries, the Packers got an unwanted look at their depth all the way down to training camp players and street free agents.

Surprisingly, the results were not too bad.

Taking All-Pro Clay Matthews out of the equation — even though he, too, missed one game with a hamstring injury — the Packers got solid production from their opposite outside linebacker spot, which was said to be a possible weakness coming into the season.

Frank Zombo (eight starts), Brad Jones (five starts), Erik Walden (two starts) and Robert Francois (one start) helped to dispel that belief however. Over their 16 regular-season starts, they combined for 118 tackles, 22 quarterback hits and six sacks.

In the postseason, there was little drop-off with Walden (three starts) and Zombo (one start) combining for 20 tackles, six quarterback hits and two sacks in four games on the way to a Super Bowl championship.

When compared to other teams and players in the league that run the 3-4 scheme, those numbers stack up quite favorably. As sidekick pass rushers at outside linebacker go, only the Steelers (10 sacks) and the Jets (eight sacks) got more production from the spot opposite their leading sacker.

Interestingly enough, Matthews — granted, he was the focus of opposing defenses — fell short of his quartet of teammates in tackles over the same span. He finished with 83 tackles in the regular season and 19 in the postseason.

Despite the Packers' apparent need in this year's draft for another stud linebacker opposite Matthews, the numbers would suggest that might not be necessary. Because over the past two seasons, defensive coordinator Dom Capers and outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene have established a record that shows the scheme can get it done.

Even in 2009, the first year the 3-4 was implemented in Green Bay, the Packers found a way. With Aaron Kampman, a 4-3 defensive end out of position at outside linebacker, and Jones, a seventh-round rookie, the Packers gave little away to the learning curve. The two combined for 85 tackles, 39 quarterback hits and 7.5 sacks in starting roles during the regular season (Kampman started nine games before going on injured reserve and Jones started seven).

With Kampman gone via free agency in 2010, Jones remained the starter before being placed on injured reserve Oct. 27. He missed 14 games (including the playoffs) and combined with three other outside linebackers — including Brady Poppinga — to miss a total of 35 games.

But in 2010, even as injuries piled up, the Packers became more multiple and creative in their defensive looks. At outside linebacker, that meant moving Matthews around and relying on the opposite backer not to get exposed as the weak link. The Packers got that from Jones and especially from Zombo, an undrafted rookie free agent, and Walden, a street free agent, down the stretch. The latter two rarely made mental mistakes and were as assignment-sure as any player on the defense.

By the final week of the regular season, the Packers showed enough confidence in Walden to use him in multiple ways, including as a quarterback spy in a playoff-clinching win at home against the Bears. Walden responded with 16 tackles and three sacks of Jay Cutler, earning him league defensive player of the week honors.

The Packers finished tied for second in the NFL with 47 sacks in 2010, one season after finishing a respectable tie for 11th with 37. It was a big improvement from before Capers arrived, in 2008, when the team had just 27 sacks (eighth-worst in the league) even with a premier pass rusher in Kampman.

So while this draft might offer some intriguing prospects (see our Bill Huber's profiles from this past week on, the Packers are far from lacking in the help department for Matthews. It just might not seem that way.

Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave publisher Bill Huber a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.

Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at

Packer Report Top Stories