In 2014, the Green Bay Packers simply were not getting enough from inside linebackers A.J. Hawk and Jamari Lattimore. So, after a blowout loss at New Orleans before the bye week, the Packers made the bold move of moving Clay Matthews out of his Pro Bowl home at outside linebacker. The decision saved the season, paving the way to Green Bay’s run to the NFC Championship Game.
After earning Pro Bowl accolades last season at inside linebacker, the Packers have moved Matthews back to the outside.
However, a nagging question has to be answered: Are the Packers any better at inside linebacker today than they were during the first half of 2014?
Maybe, but the potential replacements are unproven commodities. Sam Barrington has eight career starts, one sack, zero career turnover plays and two trips to injured reserve in three seasons. Jake Ryan has five starts, zero sacks and one turnover play in his one season. Blake Martinez is an impressive looking fourth-round pick but a rookie, nonetheless.
Out of the three, are two of them good enough to start so Matthews can go outside and stay outside?
“That’s why we’re here in training camp,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said on Friday. “We’ll have to figure that out as we go along. I think we’ve got guys out there working hard, competing, and I don’t think you ever know those questions until you get through the preseason games and that sort of thing. The picture becomes clearer and clearer.”
Not even Matthews was sure where his permanent home would be this season. Just because he hasn’t taken a snap at inside linebacker in training camp and didn’t during OTAs and minicamp doesn’t mean he won’t be there for Week 1 at Jacksonville or at some other point during the season.
“I never really know how that’s going to go,” Matthews said on Tuesday. “I’ll be ready for whatever is asked.”
Wherever it is, the six-time Pro Bowler will be a key chess piece for Capers.
“I think he just has a different perspective of the defense,” Capers said. “He’s got a different handle of what we do. I think guys understand why you’re doing certain things, and obviously by playing inside he has more of an appreciation for what those guys do. He’ll still, even when he’s playing on the outside, you saw on third down a lot of times we’d move him inside because we’re trying to get matchups.”
Bill Huber is publisher of 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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.