Camp Preview: Top Concern at OLB

We all know the Packers need a sidekick for Clay Matthews. Statistically, who has been the most productive of the other outside linebacker candidates? The answer might surprise you.

There are a lot of bodies in the mix, but is anyone capable of being a difference-maker alongside Clay Matthews?

Brad Jones, Frank Zombo and Erik Walden have shown flashes. And while none of them will take any of the pressure or attention off of the indomitable Matthews, can any of them take advantage of the steady diet of one-on-one matchups to be the complementary pass rusher the Packers so desperately need with Cullen Jenkins expected to leave in free agency?

On the surface, the answer might be yes. Zombo had five sacks while starting nine games, including his takedown of Ben Roethlisberger in the Super Bowl. Walden had four sacks while starting five games, including his first-drive sack of Michael Vick in the wild-card game. Jones didn't have any sacks in five starts last season but he played those games with a harness on his shoulder that limited his range of motion. Still, nine sacks in 19 starts is pretty good.

For a different perspective, Matthews had 17 sacks, 12 quarterback hits and 45 quarterback pressures on 557 pass rushes (including playoffs), according to Pro Football Focus. Added together, Matthews either sacked or affected the quarterback 13.3 percent of the time.

Zombo had five sacks, three quarterback hits and six pressures on 252 pass rushes. Added together, he sacked or affected the quarterback 5.5 percent of the time. Walden had three sacks, one hit and seven pressures on 148 pass rushes. Added together, he sacked or affected the quarterback 7.4 percent of the time. Jones had three hits and six pressures on 116 pass rushes. Added together, he affected the quarterback 7.8 percent of the time. When healthy in 2009, Jones' four sacks, five hits and 10 pressures equated to affecting the quarterback 9.5 percent of the time.

The gold standard for outside linebacker play is in Pittsburgh, with James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. Harrison impacted the passing game 14.8 percent of the time with his 15 sacks, 19 hits and 22 pressures in 20 games. With so much attention turned to Harrison, Woodley impacted the passing game 16.3 percent of the time with 12 sacks, nine hits and 61 pressures.

While it's unlikely a bunch of late-round or undrafted guys can mimic the impact of the Steelers' Woodley, if one of those players can at least come close to matching Matthews in total pressures, that would be a huge asset for the defense.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.


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