The magnificent seven linebackers

Chillar, Hodge, Bishop and White deserve roster spots behind the starters, Packer Report's Matt Tevsh says.

Packers general manager Ted Thompson always seems to find a way to surprise Packers fans with his final roster reduction before the regular season. Whether it is keeping four tight ends, two quarterbacks or a multitude of offensive and defensive lineman like he has in the past, he has at least proven to be nontraditional in establishing his depth chart to begin each of the last three seasons.

Expect the same approach Saturday when the Packers cut down to 53 players, because the Packers should keep at least seven linebackers.

Typically under Thompson, the Packers have kept six linebackers on their active roster to start the year with another on the practice squad. A year ago, they began with just five (and one on the practice squad).

This preseason, with just Thursday night's game against the Tennessee Titans remaining, the linebacker position has established itself as the deepest on the team, if not the strongest. If the Packers truly believe in keeping the best 53 players, they will keep all but one of the linebackers on their 75-man roster.

"There are some jobs that this week, Tennessee's performance will weigh in," said coach Mike McCarthy. "As far as how many of each position, that will work itself out. But there are definitely seven linebackers on our team we could validate keeping, no doubt about it."

Starters Nick Barnett, A.J. Hawk and Brady Poppinga are locks to make the team. Hawk has missed practice time and game action since suffering a chest injury on Aug. 11 against the Bengals and his return is uncertain, which could affect the status of the other linebackers.

Conventional wisdom would say the remaining six players behind the trio of starters would be battling for two or three spots. But at least four players have had outstanding training camps and deserve spots on the roster.

Third-year pro Abdul Hodge and second-year veteran Desmond Bishop have made huge strides. Hodge, a rookie sensation in 2006, has shown that he has fully recovered from a knee injury that kept him out all of 2007, and Bishop has added some knowledge to his hard-hitting personality. Bishop practiced some on the weak side this week, away from his normal middle spot, a sign he might be a more versatile weapon.

"I think the linebacker position is a position where you can move guys around fairly easily, quite frankly," Thompson said. "There are certain strengths each player has, but we think both those guys (Hodge and Bishop) are good players and should factor somewhere."

The Packers also have top free agent acquisition Brandon Chillar, who at least will be featured in pass coverage, and Tracy White, who has found roster security as a special-teams demon. White has been the Packers' leader in that role for the past two seasons.

Rookie free agent Danny Lansanah from Connecticut, who opened some eyes in the preseason opener against the Bengals, is all but a lock for the practice squad. That leaves Spencer Havner, a first-year player out of UCLA, as the only long shot, even after spending some time on the Packers' practice squad last year.

With what the Packers might do with their defense this year, keeping seven linebackers active makes sense. In an effort to improve their pass rush, the Packers have said they will blitz more with their second line of defense, and more than a few of the above-mentioned names should be able to get to the quarterback. Poppinga and Hawk, in particular, could be cut loose, and Hodge and Bishop close on the ball as well as anyone on the team.

Additionally, the Packers' special teams will benefit. With White returning, and a healthy Hodge, Bishop and Chillar, a good coverage unit could become a great one — with a little attitude, too.

Thompson again has some tough decisions to make. Keeping more linebackers than usual might be one those, because unless the Packers can find a trade, most of the unit is just too good to let go.

Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at

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