Position preview: LB's

Ray Thompson likely to start ahead of Hannibal Navies

The Packers have made it a point this off-season to improve the productivity in this area of the team.

Middle linebacker Nick Barnett, the team's fastest linebacker, and outside linebacker Na'il Diggs are back, and outside linebacker Hannibal Navies was re-signed. All three started last year, but Diggs has been practicing in Navies' strong-side position this off-season, leaving the weak-side position up for grabs. Veteran free agent Raynoch Thompson practiced with the first-team defense in minicamps at weak-side linebacker and is the front-runner for the starting job ahead of Navies.

The Packers selected BYU's Brady Poppinga in the fourth round of April's NFL draft. Poppinga is an up-the-field pass rusher that the Packers hope to pair with Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila on passing downs. Poppinga runs 4.6 40-yard dash and gives great effort. He will be used at strong-side linebacker in the base defense but figures to be a project at that spot.

Veteran Paris Lenon has displayed the versatility over the past couple of seasons to play all three positions. He also is a valuable special teams player, but enters camp as Barnett's top backup. Lenon will be pushed by seventh-round pick Kurt Campbell. Rookie free agent Roy Manning, one of the first players the Packers signed after the NFL draft this year, also has a legitimate shot of making the team.

Projected starters: Na'il Diggs (SLB), Nick Barnett (MLB), Ray Thompson (WLB)
Diggs and Thompson will switch at the outside positions while Barnett mans the middle.

Projected reserves: Brady Poppinga (SLB), Paris Lenon (MLB), Kurt Campbell (WLB)
The Packers are high on the aggressive Poppinga. Lenon gives the team a veteran backup and solid special teams player. Campbell has speed, but is a project.

On the bubble: Hannibal Navies (SLB), Roy Manning (MLB), Zak Woodfin (WLB), Nick McNeil (MLB)
Navies and Manning have the best shots at making the team in this group. Manning might be destined for the practice squad. Navies gives the team insurance in case Thompson is injured in camp.

Todd Korth

Note: Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at packrepted@aol.com.

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