Packers Add Veterans to Inside LB Corps

With Nick Perry added at outside linebacker, the Packers have moved Brad Jones and Jamari Lattimore to inside linebacker. We talked to both players, and they're excited about what's ahead.

Entering training camp last season, inside linebacker was about as deep as a dried-up stream.

Behind starters A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop were Robert Francois, who had been released three times in 2010, and rookie sixth-round pick D.J. Smith.

What a difference one offseason makes. Not only did the Packers trade three picks to move into the fifth round to get North Carolina State's Terrell Manning, but they've moved Brad Jones and Jamari Lattimore from outside linebacker to inside linebacker.

"They give us good depth and they're good players," Bishop said. "It's going to be fun to watch them get out there and learn. It's a little bit different than playing outside, but they're good athletes and smart."

Jones and Lattimore said they weren't sure if the move was permanent, but they've been working with inside linebackers coach Winston Moss throughout the offseason. At Tuesday's practice, they spent all of their time inside, from position drills to the 11-on-11 periods.

"It's a different view," Jones said. "Obviously, this is my first practice that I've done it but it's a different view. We'll see how it plays out."

Jones was a seventh-round pick in 2009. At Colorado, he played outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, so he seemed a natural complement to Clay Matthews, the first-round pick in that draft. As a rookie, he replaced an injured Aaron Kampman and registered four sacks in seven starts as the Packers made a second-half run to reach the playoffs.

His career hasn't lived up to that early promise. A shoulder injury sustained in training camp sabotaged his 2010 season. And in a mire of mediocrity at outside linebacker in 2011, Jones didn't break into the starting lineup until the regular-season finale against Detroit and again in the playoff loss to New York.

With the addition of first-round Nick Perry, Jones essentially has no chance to contend for a starting job. However, his special-teams value is attractive — he finished third on the team with 11 tackles in the kicking game. If Jones can play inside and outside, he perhaps can save a roster spot at another position.

Lattimore was an undrafted rookie last season who also made his mark on special teams with four tackles. A defensive end at Middle Tennessee State, Lattimore's speed was evident throughout training camp last year. However, at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, he simply wasn't big enough to contend for regular playing time on defense.

This offseason, Lattimore has gone to work. He said he's up to 241 pounds.

"I took my training to another level and got bigger, stronger, faster. I'm a better player than I was last year," Lattimore said.

Lattimore is excited about a change. As is the case with Jones, the more a backup player can do, the better his chances of making the roster.

"I love it," he said. "I get to come downhill and make plays and hit people. That's the fun part of the game. You get to hit people, shed blocks, make plays and play fast. ... I'm just trying to step it up any way I can, anywhere they put me. I'm trying to step my game up another notch and contribute to the team."

That's how Jones saw it, too, and he's energized by the opportunity.

Beyond the improved chance of making the team, one possibility is the coaches could try to get a more athletic package of linebackers on the field, whether it's to replace Hawk in passing situations or an increased usage of their 1-5-5 "psycho" package.

"Yeah, I do like a new challenge," he said. "I think it's awesome. I like doing different stuff. If they give me an opportunity to move around a little bit more inside, that's awesome and I'm all for it."


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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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