They'll likely make that their priority in the draft, whether it's with the 28th selection of the first round or, like in 2009, when Ted Thompson made a bold move by shooting back into the first round to grab Clay Matthews.
Outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene, however, isn't about to give up on the cast of characters who delivered just six sacks opposite Matthews this season. The player who showed the most potential from that motley crew was undrafted rookie Vic So'oto.
Using the snap counts provided by Pro Football Focus and the pass-rushing stats provided by the Packers, So'oto was the most impressive rusher among the outside linebackers not named Matthews.
Starter Erik Walden finished with three sacks and 30 quarterback hits in 421 snaps in which he rushed the passer, giving him a sack rate of one for every 140.3 pass-rushing snaps and a pressure rate of one for every 14.0 pass-rushing snaps.
Brad Jones finished with one sack and two quarterback hits in 64 pass-rushing snaps, Frank Zombo one sack and two hits in 56 pass-rushing snaps and Jamari Lattimore failed to register a pressure in 16 pass-rushing snaps. So'oto finished with one sack and three hits in 55-pass rushing snaps, giving him the best sack rate — though an unimpressive one in 55 — and a pressure rate of one in every 18.3 snaps. Moreover, while Matthews had the only forced fumbles (three) among the group, So'oto almost had one against Detroit, though it was overturned by replay.
Vic So'oto drills Lions TE Tony Scheffler.
Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire
"We were looking for that guy this year," Greene said. "We gave a number of guys the opportunities to step up and show that he was going to be that guy, and so they came up short. It didn't happen. We're still looking for that guy. We definitely are looking for somebody to be the match for Clay on the other side of the defense. Absolutely."
For the playoff game against the Giants, the Packers used a rotation of Jones, Zombo and Walden (with Lattimore on special teams) but So'oto was inactive, even though he showed some playmaking ability in both the preseason and regular season.
That's a byproduct of youth. So'oto started his career at BYU as a tight end and finished his career with two years on the defensive line. Playing outside linebacker was new to him, and the most difficult part of the transition was getting used to the view from a two-point stance and the multiple responsibilities at the position. As a defensive lineman, he'd generally have to take care of the gap to his left and right. As an outside linebacker, he might be rushing the quarterback on one play and dropping into coverage and knowing his zone responsibilities on the next.
"There's so many more pre-snap reads you can get off looking at formations," So'oto said. "Just watching film and knowing what to look for is going to be huge, because usually when I was in college, I'd base my reads off one guy. If he went one way or the other, then that would make my read one thing or the other."
At least he'll have a base of information from which to build when the offseason program begins in April. He played 88 snaps of defense this season, with 75 of them coming in the final two regular-season games. He's got the power that Greene demands from the position. Now, he needs the finesse and feel that will come only from experience.
"I think I was pretty much used to (the position)," he said. "It's just when you don't get any game experience, then it's hard for you to arrange where you are as far as getting better. When you do get a lot of playing time and you do get to feel game tempo — live bullets, so to speak — then you really get to gauge how much better you've gotten from previous games and the preseason games. I definitely felt like I got a lot better and there's a lot of improvement left to be had."
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.