Offseason Progress Report: Outside LBs

How much of a difference can a healthy Clay Matthews and a re-energized Julius Peppers make to the Packers' defense? And what is Nick Perry's future after the team bolstered the outside linebacker position?

With four weeks of offseason practices behind them, Packer Report is taking a position-by-position look at the Green Bay Packers, continuing with the outside linebackers.

Depth chart

NO.PLAYERPOSHTWTAGEEXPSCHOOL
52 Matthews, ClayLB 6-3 255 28 6 Southern California
56 Peppers, JuliusLB/DE 6-7 287 34 13 North Carolina
96 Neal, Mike DE/LB 6-3 285 27 5 Purdue
53 Perry, NickLB 6-3 265 24 3 Southern California
55 Mulumba, AndyLB 6-3 260 24 2 Eastern Michigan
51 Palmer, NateLB 6-2 248 24 2 Illinois State
91 Bradford, CarlLB 6-1 252 21 R Arizona State
49 Hubbard, AdrianLB 6-6 257 22 R Alabama
47 Elliott, JayroneLB 6-3 255 22 R Toledo

The answer

There's nothing wrong with this position that Clay Matthews' healthy thumb and a re-energized Julius Peppers can't solve.

If things work out as planned -- always a dicey proposition, given the Packers' perpetual health problems -- defensive coordinator Dom Capers can treat his outside linebacker group like a Rolodex.

Curiously, the Packers went 4-2 without Matthews, including the playoff loss to San Francisco. Even more surprisingly, the Packers allowed 23.2 points per game in those six games without Matthews compared to 28.4 points per game with him. Still, Matthews' impact on the game is obvious. Even while missing five regular-season games, he led the team with 7.5 sacks and 25 quarterback hits. He had more quarterback hits than the next outside linebackers, Mike Neal and Nick Perry, combined.

Peppers is in the twilight of a Hall of Fame career. He had seven sacks last season, his fewest since 2007. Still, "only" seven sacks would be big time for Green Bay, which hasn't gotten that kind of production opposite Matthews. In Matthews' five seasons, his right-hand men were Daniels with 6.5 sacks in 2013, Neal's 4.5 sacks in 2012, Desmond Bishop's five sacks in 2011, Cullen Jenkins' seven sacks in 2010 and Jenkins' 4.5 sacks in 2009.

In four seasons with the Bears, Peppers piled up 37.5 sacks. That's 9.4 sacks per season. The Packers' No. 2 sacker during Matthews five seasons has averaged 5.5 sacks.

"He'll be one of those, quote, hybrid-type guys," Capers said. "He'll rush, he'll drop, he'll do a lot of different things. He'll play different spots for us. I'm glad we have him. He's a rare guy from a talent standpoint. He's done a nice job mentally of picking up what we're asking him to do and, quite frankly, has looked pretty comfortable doing it."

The question

What is Perry's future?

The team's first-round pick in 2012, Perry has started 11 games and played in 18 of a possible 35 games (including playoffs) in two seasons. He then missed the offseason workouts with an undisclosed injury.

"He's been in meetings and taking part in that but as far as any work on the field, he hasn't been able to do so," Capers said. "He obviously has some catching up to do. You miss this segment and you really have to make up some ground in training camp."

When healthy, he's been an impact player. He had two sacks, including a sack-strip, against Detroit. The following week at Baltimore, he had another sack-strip, but he injured his foot on that play and missed five of the next six games. In Perry's final six games, he had just one sack (which forced a fumble) and became a major liability in space.

Signing Peppers and drafting Carl Bradford provide two big insurance policies should Perry simply be cursed. And if he's healthy, how much playing time can Perry get with Matthews, Perry and Neal on the depth chart?

Roster prediction

Matthews, Peppers, Neal, Perry, Bradford and Mulumba.


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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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