Grading the Packers: Linebackers

PackerReport.com's Todd Korth assesses each of the Green Bay Packers linebackers from the 2006 season.

Nick Barnett: Started at middle linebacker for his fourth straight season, finishing second on the team with 141 tackles. The leader of the linebackers, Barnett also had two sacks and nine passes defensed.

Barnett had started 46 straight games before he missed Green Bay's Nov. 27 game at Seattle with a broken right hand that he sustained Nov. 19 against New England. He played with a large cast for the team's final five games and was not as effective, but was still named as a Pro Bowl alternate.
Grade: B-

A.J. Hawk: The fifth overall pick of the NFL draft by Green Bay, Hawk started the season slow, but gained confidence week by week and finished strong as the team's ‘Will' (weak-side) linebacker. Hawk led the Packers in tackles with 155, 11 shy of Rich Wingo's team rookie record of 166 set in 1979.

Hawk, a hard-nosed tackler, punctuated his improvement in pass coverage with two interceptions in the last four games. He started all 16 games and had 3 ½ sacks while playing in nearly all of the snaps on defense. Hawk provides a mean streak among the linebackers, as aspect that has been missing since Wayne Simmons was on the field for Green Bay from 1993-97.
Grade: B+

Brady Poppinga: Playing the ‘Sam' (strong-side) position, Poppinga began the season poorly, often getting beat in pass coverage by opposing tight ends. But he improved throughout the season and was always aggressive against the run, though, sometimes overly-aggressive.

Poppinga started 13 of 16 games after maiking a remarkably quick recovery from a torn ACL that he sustained in a game Dec. 11, 2005. He was seventh on the team in tackles with 76 and also had a sack, an interception, and five passes defensed.

Poppinga has a lot of room for improvement, but his tenacity is unmatched. When he learns to play more under control, he will be much more effective.
Grade: C

Abdul Hodge: The rookie third-round pick was stuck behind Nick Barnett, then was hampered by knee and shoulder injuries toward the end of the season. Hodge made the most of his opportunity when he started for the injured Barnett Nov. 27 at Seattle by making 12 tackles, returning a fumble 29 yards for a touchdown and breaking up two passes, but that was his only highlight of the season.

Hodge missed eight games due to injuries. When he suited up, he mainly played on special teams where he had three tackles.

Some feel Hodge is Green Bay's future middle linebacker, but if the Packers extend Barnett's contract, it may be a while before Hodge plays on a regular basis.
Grade: C-

Ben Taylor: The fifth-year pro played in 10 of 16 games, mainly as a backup to Poppinga and on special teams where he had 13 tackles. He was signed as an insurance policy in case of a major injury to Poppinga or Hawk, and will likely try to hook on with another team this off-season for a better chance to play.
Grade: C-

Tracy White: He made the team as a free agent in training camp because of his value on special teams. He was placed on waivers in late September, then re-signed by the Packers in early October. White played in 14 games and led special teams in tackles with 17.
Grade: C-

Kurt Campbell: The second-year pro sustained a shoulder injury in Green Bay's first preseason game and spent his second straight year on the injured reserve list. A ‘Will' linebacker, Campbell tore an ACL in his right knee early in training camp in 2005 and missed his rookie season.
Grade: Incomplete


Todd Korth

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


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