Camp Preview: Battle at ILB

Behind starters A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop, it's nothing but question marks at inside linebacker. The only veteran backup under contract is Brandon Chillar, and his spot on the team isn't even safe.

As far as battles go, this isn't quite on par with Ryan Grant against James Starks in the backfield.

Not that it isn't important.

Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk will be the Green Bay Packers' starting inside linebackers. Brandon Chillar is the only veteran backup who's under contract, and even his future appears to be in some jeopardy. So, who will fill in behind Bishop and Hawk? Will Chillar return, despite his injury history and relatively high salary over the next three years? Is it sixth-round draft pick D.J. Smith? Undrafted free agent Peanut Joseph? Cardia Jackson, who was signed to the practice squad on Dec. 29?

"We're going to be a lot like that in a lot of positions where some of these young guys are going to have to factor into our depth," defensive coordinator Dom Capers told a handful of beat writers on Wednesday, failing to mention Chillar in his answer. "Most teams are like that. I don't think that many teams had the kind of depth that we had at inside linebacker. That doesn't happen very often."

Last year, the Packers went into the season with Nick Barnett and Hawk as the starters, Chillar entering in passing situations and Bishop taking his frustrations out on special teams. Then, Barnett went down in Week 4, Bishop joined Hawk in the starting lineup, and Chillar joined Barnett on injured reserve at midseason.

With Barnett's run in Green Bay over and Chillar recovering from a third surgery to his right shoulder that is putting his roster spot in peril, the depth might be tenuous. To that end, a source told Packer Report on Tuesday evening that the Packers are in talks to retain unrestricted free agent inside linebacker Matt Wilhelm. Wilhelm, a midseason addition who is entering his ninth season and has spent most of his career in a 3-4 defense, played in 11 games (playoffs included) and finished with nine tackles on special teams.

Assuming Wilhelm is re-signed, he'll battle the aforementioned list of youngsters for roster spots.

Jackson (6-1, 236) has an advantage because of his knowledge of the defense. Jackson, who spent training camp last year with the Rams as an undrafted free agent, was the Sun Belt Conference's defensive player of the year in 2009 at Louisiana-Monroe. He ended his career ranked second among all active players in the nation with 229 solo tackles and the school's career leader in total tackles with 381.

Smith (5-11, 239) spent most of his career at Appalachian State as an outside linebacker in its 4-3 scheme but moved to the middle early during his senior season due to an injury. He responded with a career-high 144 tackles, including at least 10 tackles in nine of his 10 games in the middle.

Joseph (6-1, 243) was Temple's leader in tackles until a season-ending knee injury. Like the others on this list, he's not a tremendous athlete but he has a nose for the ball and can hit.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at

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