Grading the Packers: Linebackers

Unit improved in 2007, but depth needs to be bolstered

Green Bay's linebacker corps is improving, but there is room for even more improvement and depth. The Packers carried five linebackers on their roster throughout the season, one less than the typical six. Because none of the starters missed games due to injury, the Packers were able to get by despite the lack of depth.

Look for Packers general manager Ted Thompson to create more competition at this position this off-season, especially for Brady Poppinga's strong-side position. Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk will be the starters for at least the next few years. Depth behind them is promising, though, untested.

Here are individual assessments and grades for each of the linebackers:

Nick Barnett: The middle linebacker led the Packers for the fourth time in the past five seasons in total tackles with 165 (109 solo). He also had 3 ½ sacks and two interceptions and was named as a first alternate for the NFC in the Pro Bowl.

Barnett started all 18 games for the Packers in their 2007 season and continues to be the leader of the linebackers. He signed a contract extension with the Packers that included more than $11 million paid to him last year, and he lived up to expectations.
Grade: A

A.J. Hawk: He proved to be very consistent in his second season at weak-side linebacker. Hawk started every game last season for the Packers and though he didn't have flashy numbers – one sack, one fumble recovery, one interception, one forced fumble and four passes defensed – he was solid in pass coverage as opponents went away from him.

Hawk was second to Barnett in total tackles with 129 (81 solo) while starting in every game – regular season and playoffs – for the Packers.
Grade: B+

Brady Poppinga: The strong-side linebacker leads the team in intensity, however, he is susceptible in pass coverage. Because of that, he will be challenged heavily this off-season to retain his starting position.

Poppinga was solid against the run and finished fifth on the team in total tackles with 70 (43 solo). He did not play in the team's ‘nickel' defense formations (five defensive backs, two linebackers).
Grade: C

Desmond Bishop: The rookie made his presence known during training camp last season with some head-rattling hits, but because he plays middle linebacker behind Barnett, he did not see the field much in 2007. Bishop played in 10 regular season games, playing mainly on special teams. He was third with 12 special teams tackles.

Bishop missed four games early in the season with a shoulder injury that he sustained Sept. 16 against the New York Giants.
Grade: C

Tracy White: The special teams standout fell short of his goal of being named to the Pro Bowl due to an ankle injury that caused him to miss four games in November and December. Still, he finished second on the team with 16 coverage stops.

In the season opener against Philadephia, White scored his first career touchdown by recovering a muffed punt in the end zone in the first quarter. He forced a fumble while on punt coverage in the NFC Championship Game against the Giants, but the Packers were unable to recover.

White is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this off-season, but look for the Packers to do all they can to re-sign him because he has been instrumental in the team's turnaround on special teams.
Grade: B

Packer Report Top Stories