A.J. Hawk (6-1, 242; eighth season): Hawk has averaged 125 tackles per season, which would seem more impressive if there were more big-play production. He hasn't forced a fumble in five seasons and hasn't intercepted a pass in two seasons. He's a highly paid part-time player — even after taking a pay cut that shaved $7.5 million off the next three seasons.
Brad Jones (6-3, 242; fifth season): Jones entered last training camp on the roster bubble after moving from outside to inside linebacker. He emerged as the starter after Desmond Bishop (hamstring) and D.J. Smith (knee) sustained season-ending injuries. In 10 starts, he tallied 102 tackles, two sacks and the inside linebacker corps' only forced fumble.
Jamari Lattimore (6-2, 237; third season): Lattimore posted 10 special-teams tackles in 14 games and was voted a special-teams captain for the playoffs. A quality pass rusher at Middle Tennessee State, he's got a chance to challenge for playing time.
Robert Francois (6-2, 250; fourth season): Francois, who started at outside linebacker in the 2010 NFC Championship Game, ranked second on the team with 13 tackles on special teams. He's a thumper against the run who had two interceptions in 2011.
Terrell Manning (6-2, 237; second season): Manning's rookie season was ruined by a training camp battle with colitis. In two seasons as a starter at NC State, he had 10 sacks, 25 tackles for losses, six forced fumbles and four interceptions.
Sam Barrington (6-1, 235; rookie/R-7): Barrington was a three-year starter and earned second-team all-Big East as a senior, when he had career highs of 80 tackles and 3.5 sacks and matched career highs with two forced fumbles and three passes defensed.
Total: 7. On 2012 opening roster: 6 (Francois, Hawk, Jones, Lattimore, Manning, D.J. Smith).
Final prediction: 5 (Francois, Hawk, Jones, Lattimore, Manning).