|50||Hawk, A.J.||LB||6-1||242||30||9||Ohio State|
|57||Lattimore, Jamari||LB||6-2||237||25||4||Middle Tennessee St.|
|58||Barrington, Sam||LB||6-1||235||23||2||South Florida|
|45||Doughty, Jake||LB||6-0||234||22||R||Utah State|
|48||Thomas, Joe||LB||6-1||227||23||R||South Carolina State|
|54||Lewis, Shaun||LB||5-11||226||22||R||Oklahoma State|
Apparently, the answer is to improve from within.
Inside linebacker was considered one of the team's major weaknesses entering last month's draft. The Packers didn't address the position, however, other than doling out $5,000 signing bonuses to bring in undrafted free agents Jake Doughty and Joe Thomas.
Hawk provided tremendous production last season, based on the box score. His 153 tackles were his most since he tallied 155 as a rookie in 2006. His 112 solo tackles matched his career high, also set in 2006. His five sacks set a career high. For the first time since 2007, he forced a fumble. For the first time since 2010, he intercepted a pass. Taking over as the every-down inside linebacker, he broke up five passes.
However, too many of those tackles came too far down the field. Out of 56 inside/middle linebackers who played at least 25 percent of the running plays, Hawk ranked 54th in ProFootballFocus.com's run-stop percentage metric. That measures impact tackles, such as a first-and-10 play held to 3 yards or less or any third-down tackle short of the first down. Hawk ranked sixth in that metric in 2012. He'll forever be a liability in coverage, which is one reason why he was used so often as a blitzer.
There's little reason to believe Hawk won't be in the starting lineup, so that means Jones will battle Lattimore, right?
"You said battle," linebackers coach Winston Moss said. "Brad's our starter, until I'm told otherwise. Brad has fought through injuries as of late but, when Brad was healthy and Brad was dialed in, Brad was playing his (butt) off, as well."
Moss hopes Jones returns to his 2012 form. With Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith out with season-ending injuries, Jones recorded 99 tackles in 10 starts and was 20th in PFF's run-stop percentage. As the every-down inside linebacker, Jones used his height and length to break up six passes. Last year, he missed four games due to injuries and lost the every-down role as a result. He finished with 98 tackles and two passes defensed, and fell to 29th in run-stop percentage.
Getting significant action on defense for the first time in his three seasons, Lattimore started four games and played extensively in two others when Jones was sidelined. He tallied 38 tackles and a forced fumble, and edged Jones by finishing 28th in PFF's run-stop percentage. He was featured at times during the offseason practices, with defensive coordinator Dom Capers liking Lattimore's athleticism.
"He stepped up and, to his credit, he played his (butt) off when he was in the games," Moss said. "He ended up playing at a high level, for the most part, on special teams. He really took a big step last year. This year, we look for him to pick up where he left off and, whatever we ask him to do and how we ask him to do it, he should be ready to go. His attitude is ‘Hey, I've gone in the game, I've done some good things. If I'm given an opportunity, I should continue to be very productive.'"
Hawk, Jones, Lattimore and Barrington.
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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 email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.