"If we could all be one linebacker, we'd be awesome," one of those players, Terrell Manning, said after Thursday's practice. "You've got A.J. (Hawk), who's in command, he's a vet, he knows what to expect. You've got Brad (Jones), who's flying around and makes plays. You've got (Robert) Francois, who's the big hitter on the team. You've got (Jamari) Lattimore, who does a lot of special-teams things and he's physical. Sam (Barrington), he's a player. Then you've got me. I just want to make the big play. All of us do something. All of us bring something different to the table."
Hawk and Jones have been the No. 1 tandem throughout training camp and there's little reason to believe that will change before the regular season kicks off at San Francisco on Sept. 8.
Francois and Lattimore have formed the No. 2 pairing. They've routinely delivered the biggest hits. They're also two key cogs to the special teams, with Francois second and Lattimore tied for third with 13 and 10 tackles, respectively, last season.
"Hey, I don't want to say I'm off to a good start. It's not good enough for me," Lattimore said. "I'm just trying to make plays and just trying to build an identity for guys around me that they can count on me and they know where I'm going to be and I'm going to make an impact. I'm trying to earn my teammates' respect. That's all I'm trying to do."
Lattimore's search for respect is interesting, considering he seemingly had it last season, when he was voted a special-teams captain for the playoffs. He said there's "always more to show," and he's been in the process of showing it to position coach Winston Moss.
"He's been fired up," Moss said. "He has a lot to prove. He feels as though he can step in and play. He wants to show, not only his teammates but everybody, that he is something to be reckoned with. He's someone, when given an opportunity, he wants to make the most out of it. He's going out there and trying to showcase what he wants to do."
Manning is just happy to be out of the bathroom. At this point last year, Manning was battling colitis. He saw his weight plunge to 219 pounds. He slept an hour here, an hour there. Sapped of his strength and energy – not to mention dealing with sagging confidence -- he never got close to challenging for playing time and felt fortunate to make the team.
"I was here every day. I don't know how," Manning said. "I think it was more determination – the determination to make sure that I'd make the team and make sure I would be around to prove myself later on. That's all it was. It was me wanting to make it. I couldn't go back home. I had to keep moving forward to get up every day."
Understandably, Manning is a totally different player compared to 12 months ago.
"He's another guy that really settled in with an offseason and has come in with a great attitude," Moss said. "He has a lot of confidence. I have the chance to increase his reps. So, with that, he has that same type of urgency in which, ‘I had my opportunity last year and I got off to a slow start, now I'm going to show you guys what I can do.' He has a lot to prove to himself, as well. All of the guys that I'm working with have their own different and unique ways of, ‘Listen, I have something to prove and I'm here to do that. So, let's go.'"
Moss has been impressed with how quickly Barrington has picked up the scheme and communication, and likes the consistency the rookie has shown.
"He is all business out there," Moss said.
The talent and versatility at the position is a reason why the Packers back in March deemed productive veteran Desmond Bishop expendable. There's no sign of an open competition at either position, though, with Hawk (142 tackles, three sacks, no passes defensed, no turnovers in 16 games) and Jones (100 tackles, two sacks, five passes defensed and one forced fumble in 10 starts) seemingly entrenched in their roles.
"I think it's so early in training camp right now and that would be a discredit to what A.J. and Brad have done," Moss said. "The only focus for those guys right now is show up every day, be reliable, be dependable, be disciplined, be tough, learn your assignments, be a good teammate. Everything else is going to take care of itself."
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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.