With the selection of Iowa middle linebacker Abdul Hodge and Louisville guard Jason Spitz, the Packers addressed two of their biggest area of needs for the second time in the same day. They also got two more of what GM Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy referred to as ‘real football players.' The Packers traded away a third pick in the third round, No. 93 overall, to the St. Louis Rams for a fourth round (109th overall) and a sixth round (183rd overall). That pick was part of the Javon Walker trade with Denver that occurred earlier in the afternoon.
If Abdul's name doesn't ring a bell, it's because he was overshadowed by the ‘other' Iowa linebacker. The one you have heard about, outside 'backer Chad Greenway, went to the Minnesota Vikings with the No. 17 overall pick in the first round. Greenway may have received most of the Hawkeye hype, but Hodge was around the ball every bit as much as his teammate in 2005, actually edging him in tackles 158-156. The duo was third and fourth in the nation in tackles per game.
Hodge was rated the top inside linebacker by several draft publications in what is considered an average draft class for the position. A bit undersized at a shade over six feet and 234 pounds, Hodge at least appears to have the disposition to be anything but average in the NFL. He was referred to in his bio as a college version of Baltimore's Ray Lewis. When questioned on it, he didn't really feel the need to back away. He pointed out that aside from wearing the same number, they're both very physical, very vocal team players and team leaders.
That kind of confidence, the good kind, which is different than cockiness, is just what the Packers defense needs. And when pressed about his size, Hodge said he's got a mean streak that makes up for anything people think he's lacking physically. A mean streak on the Packers defense? How refreshing. While he'll start out as a middle linebacker, behind current starter Nick Barnett, Thompson said he's got the ability to play all three positions and at the end of the day, the best three linebackers will end up starting. That seems like just the kind of motivation a guy like Hodge is seeking.
Versatile interior lineman
Spitz is another versatile pick who'll be given every chance available to show what he can do. He played left guard and right guard at Louisville but will be tried first at center. He'll compete with third-year pro Scott Wells for the position the departed Mike Flanagan (Houston) held down, when healthy, for the past five years. Spitz said he wasn't aware of the Packers' recent offensive line woes, losing both starting guards last year to free agency and their center this year, but he was happy for the opportunity come in and compete.
A 6-foot-3, 313-pounder, he fits the mold of a lighter offensive lineman for the new zone-blocking scheme. The fifth-rated guard in the draft, Spitz was set to play center for Louisville this past season before an injury put him back at left guard for 2005. Spitz actually did a good deal of zone blocking at Louisville, though Packers offensive line coach Joe Philbin said that wasn't a big factor in his selection. What he did like was Spitz's toughness, ability to quickly pick up a system and especially the way he used his hands to jolt and control defenders.
How well he can do that at the next level will determine if he'll have a chance to be Packers next center. But heading into the season it will be Wells' job to lose, and according to Philbin, he's had a great off-season.
W. Keith Roerdink is a regular contributor to Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.