From an outside perspective, the Green Bay Packers have a lot of questions at outside linebacker.
What can Nick Perry do for an encore?
Can Clay Matthews stay healthy and bounce back after a quiet eighth season?
How can the Packers replace Julius Peppers, who ranked second on the team with 7.5 sacks, and Datone Jones, who ranked No. 1 on the team with 16 quarterback hits?
What is Kyler Fackrell’s ceiling after a quiet rookie season?
Is Jayrone Elliott anything more than a special-teams player?
What can fourth-round pick Vince Biegel contribute?
Will Fackrell, Elliott and Biegel play well enough so the Packers can take move Matthews around the defense to create matchup problems?
Coach Mike McCarthy, however, sees more answers than questions.
“The outside linebacker position, this is probably as good of depth as we’ve had there in some time,” McCarthy said before Thursday’s organized team activity. “I think you’ll really see some of our guys jump out in training camp as we get the pads on.”
Outside linebackers are the heartbeat of a 3-4 scheme. They’ve got to dominate the edge against the running game and then apply the heat in the passing game. With Matthews and Perry, defensive coordinator Dom Capers believes he’s got a strong starting point for his revamped depth chart.
“With Clay and Nick, we have two guys that we think can be very productive for us,” Capers said on Thursday evening. “You look at the number of snaps, Nick played the most snaps since he’s been here last year, and we felt really good about his production in the run and the pass. Clay probably played around 50 percent of the snaps. The year before he was up much higher, so hopefully we can trend toward that. Kyler Fackrell, going into his second year, you always expect a pretty good jump from a first-year player going into his second year. Jayrone Elliott’s been around here and we’ve all seen Jayrone make some very athletic plays. Those guys are getting a lot of work right now, so I feel good about those four guys.”
Perry, however, never has played a full 16-game season. He started a career-high 12 games last season and took advantage with 11 sacks — almost equaling his combined 12.5 sacks from his first four seasons. Matthews had a career-low five sacks, and his 24 tackles were less than half of his previous worst season. While Matthews played all 16 games in 2014 and 2015, when he split his time between outside linebacker and inside linebacker, he hasn’t played more than 12 games as a pure outside linebacker since 2011.
Meanwhile, Fackrell was a nonfactor as a rookie, Elliott’s never received regular snaps on defense and Biegel is sidelined by ankle surgery.
“We feel good about the outside linebacker position,” Matthews said. “As you guys are well aware, it’s a volatile position in what we do. Unfortunately, injuries are a part of it, and anytime you lose those guys like Julius and Datone, you’re going to take a hit. But you have to be real excited with what Nick was able to do when he strung together, for the most part, a healthy season. And me coming back healthy off the shoulder injury, you have to feel good of the guys who are running with the ones right now. And on top of that, you’ve got Kyler, who showed some flashes last year, obviously Vince is dealing with his own injury. We’ve got guys who have some game experience. You’ve got to feel good about the veterans in there and, at least, the depth (of) people who can contribute.”
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.