Linebackers Lack Experience

Other than A.J. Hawk, the other three starters have a combined 10 games of starting experience. There are high hopes for Jamari Lattimore, who will be making his starting debut on Sunday, and Kevin Greene won't hesitate to use his rookie backups at outside linebacker.

Careers have to start somewhere.

It did for Desmond Bishop. The Green Bay Packers' perennial Mr. August became a stalwart on a championship-winning defense only because Nick Barnett sustained a season-ending wrist injury early in 2010.

So, who knows if Sunday's game at Baltimore will be a launching point for another linebacker who has impressed on the practice field in previous summers.

"You want to get in, you want to play, you want to show people that you can play," Jamari Lattimore said. "Some people's roles are different than others. You have to work. Desmond is my friend, I learned from him, I learned from a lot of folks."

Without Clay Matthews and Brad Jones, the Packers will field an inexperienced linebacker corps for Sunday's game at Baltimore.

At inside linebacker, A.J. Hawk has started 111 games. Lattimore, who will be the other starter in place of Jones (and Robert Francois), will make his first NFL start. The one-man backup corps will be seventh-round rookie Sam Barrington, who hasn't played a snap on defense in his career.

At outside linebacker, Nick Perry has started eight games and Mike Neal has started two games. The backups will be a pair of rookies, undrafted Andy Mulumba and sixth-rounder Nate Palmer.

"It's amazing the way this business has gone, because it seems like every week it's a new combination," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "About the time you feel good you think, ‘Well, let's get this group together and we can kind of get 'em going, we can get a little momentum,' but it's not the way it works. We've had that happen a lot around here since I've been here.

"You think about last year, we lost Bishop and then D.J. Smith and that's how Brad ended up being in there. Now, Brad's out and Rob Francois, who's been kind of a steady-Eddie guy for us, (is out for the season), so now Jamari's got to step up. And Sam could end up getting a chance. We're going into a new area here with new guys. But they know the expectation level, and we aren't going to ever use that as an excuse. They've got to step up and play."

Lattimore, a defensive end at Middle Tennessee State, finished second in school history in sacks behind Erik Walden. He went undrafted in 2011 and made the team as an outside linebacker. In 2012, Lattimore and Jones were moved to the inside. He made an impact on special teams last season with 10 tackles and was voted one of the playoff captains. Throughout training camp, he showed a physical presence.

"He's athletic so I think you'll see him make athletic plays," Capers said. "Like anything, this is his first opportunity and I'm sure he's excited about going out there and taking advantage of his opportunity. That's the way guys win their jobs in this business. You've got to seize the opportunity."

At the end of an impressive training camp, Capers was asked if Lattimore would be a consideration during the regular season. The answer was telling — not so much about Lattimore but how things can change.

"I always tell those guys, if you're setting in this meeting room, you better not take it for granted that you're not going to play because you're one play away from being in there, and you owe it to everybody in that room to make sure you're ready to go," Capers said about six weeks go. "Jamari, he's been an outstanding special-teams player, we like his athletic ability. He did some good things when we had him in there in preseason. He could be a play or two away from playing for us."

That "play or two" happened and Lattimore (6-2, 230) has his chance. He was unable to hide his smile, saying he's "excited — very excited" to get this opportunity.

"He has aspirations. This is something that he's wanted," inside linebackers coach Winston Moss said. "I think that now it's come at a time to where it should give him something to really step into and embrace this moment. It doesn't come along often. He has some shoes to fill. All the guys who have come in in the past have played well and so this is important for him. It's important for the defense. It's important for this team."

At outside linebacker, Mulumba (6-3, 260) is a big, physical defender. Throughout training camp, he showed he was a handful against the run game. Palmer (6-2, 248) ran hot and cold during training camp. He did record two sacks in the preseason, though.

"They have improved, both of them, and my plan is to get them in the game and let the young fellas swim, let them have fun doing what they've been working on in practice, doing what they're supposed to do," outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene said. "Have fun, get out there, play the game, be physical, make plays, have fun with it."

Neal (275 pounds) Perry (265) and Mulumba (260) are big, powerful men that fit Capers' preference. Palmer doesn't have that size, and it showed at times during the preseason.

"He's a physical kid in his own right," Greene said. "I'm not going to have a problem at all putting him in the game and giving him a few snaps and getting his feet wet and seeing if he can do something. That's part of earning your stripes and earning an opportunity to actually step on the game day field and do something. You have an opportunity to do something now, what are you going to do with it? Make it happen. Here's your chance."


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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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