ILB Battles

It's mostly the same faces but will they wind up on different places on the Packers' defensive depth chart?

Given the state of the Green Bay Packers' inside linebacker corps, Ryan Shazier was the hot name as the projected first-round draft pick.

To a lesser extent, so was C.J. Mosley. Wisconsin's Chris Borland was a logical consideration in the second round. Given general manager Ted Thompson's affinity for Iowa players, Anthony Hitchens or Christian Kirksey wouldn't have been surprises in the third or fourth rounds.

However, in the surprise of the draft, the Packers not only didn't address inside linebacker in the first few rounds, they didn't address the position at all.

That leaves the Packers moving forward with roughly the same cast of characters as last year. Returning starters A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones lined up with the starters for Thursday's organized team activity. Jamari Lattimore, who started four games due to injuries last season, and Sam Barrington, a seventh-round pick last year who missed the second half of the season with an injured hamstring, will challenge for playing time. Undrafted rookies Jake Doughty and Joe Thomas are the lone newcomers.

"I try not to caught up in the draft one way or another and how it'll affect me, personally," Hawk said on Thursday. "I know Ted Thompson says no matter what he's going best available at position and whoever the best players are on the board. I don't pretend to know anything about college guys coming out and what they're trying to do. We feel really good about the guys we have in our inside backer room."

Hawk is coming off one of the best statistical seasons of his career. His 153 tackles fell two short of his career-high 155, established during his rookie season of 2006. He set a career high with five sacks, intercepted his first pass since 2010 and forced his first fumble since, incredibly, 2007. However, unlike 2012, Hawk didn't make many impact plays against the run and was a liability in coverage as the every-down inside linebacker. He averaged a tackle for every 6.63 snaps.

"Hawk had a very strong start and he ended up with some very good numbers and, overall, I felt very good and very positive about him," linebackers coach Winston Moss said.

Jones entered the starting lineup in 2012 due to injuries — parlaying that opportunity into a three-year contract worth $11.25 million — but saw his 2013 ruined by injuries. He missed a total of four games but was slowed for others due to hamstring and ankle problems. Still, with one tackle for every 6.06 snaps last year, he led the position group. Not the greatest athlete to begin with — he's rarely played to his 4.54-second clocking in the 40-yard dash from his 2009 pro day — the injuries slowed him to such an extent that Hawk took over the dime linebacker duties.

"If he does (get healthy and stay healthy), he'll get back on the level where he's very productive," Moss said.

Jones' spot in the lineup isn't secure — nor is his roster spot, with a base salary of $2.5 million. Lattimore, who started four games and played extensively in two others in 2013, was featured prominently at Thursday's practice. It's obviously early, but that would seem to indicate he'll be given a fair shot at earning a starting job.

Lattimore, a collegiate defensive end who spent 2011 at outside linebacker before going inside in 2012 and 2013, isn't a great athlete (4.71 at his pro day in 2011, which was slower than Jones but faster than Desmond Bishop) but he's good in space and he's the big hitter at the position. When he reads the play correctly, he's capable of making big plays in the backfield. Still, he ranked behind Hawk and Jones with one tackle for every 7.16 snaps.

"When Brad went down, he had some very good games for us where he impacted the game with his athletic ability," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "You can never have enough good athletes out there and Jamari just gives us another athletic option."

Barrington's rookie season was curtailed after seven games. Playing only on special teams, he posted three tackles. He's a physical player, a good athlete (4.69 and a 37-inch vertical) and smart.

"There's a lot of unknowns about him," Moss said. "The only thing with Sam is you can just continue to give him as much opportunities as possible so that at the end of the day there's going to be an opportunity to evaluate him."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at

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