State of the Packers: ILBs

Barring a surprising roster move, starters Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk and reserves Brandon Chillar and Desmond Bishop will form the rotation in 2010. The only fresh face, however, has a chance to make the practice squad as a developmental prospect.

After a break because of the rookie camp, our State of the Packers series continues with the inside linebackers.

Roster

Starters: Nick Barnett, A.J. Hawk. Veteran backups: Brandon Chillar, Desmond Bishop. Rookies: Alex Joseph (undrafted).

The big picture

This is one of the Packers' deepest positions, with the two starters and two reserves from the last two seasons presumably back for 2011.

A year removed from a season-ending knee injury, Barnett's 122 tackles led the team for a franchise-record fifth time. It's simplistic but worth noting nonetheless: When Barnett was limited to part-time duty in the first three games, the defense ranked 19th overall and 23rd against the run. By season's end, the Packers ranked second overall and first against the run. While he had a career-high four sacks, he wasn't involved in a turnover-producing play for the first time.

Hawk's lot in life has been secured. The No. 5 overall pick in the 2006 draft is solid in run defense but a liability in other phases of the game. While you'd like more than that from such a high draft pick, what Hawk does well shouldn't just be ignored with a shrug of the shoulders. If a defense can't stop the run, it can't stop anything. His chances to make an impact are diminished in the new scheme, with Hawk — being the bigger of the inside linebackers — playing more of a thumper role so Barnett can make the tackles. Hawk didn't produce a turnover in 2008 but picked off two passes in 2009. On the other hand, he's a dreadful blitzer, even with his size and athletic ability. With a hefty price tag, random speculation has Hawk on thin ice. Don't buy it. Hawk will be back and starting.

Hawk generally is replaced in passing situations by Chillar, but Chillar wasn't nearly as good in 2009 as he was in 2008, slipping from nine passes defensed to just four. In fairness, so much more was expected of Chillar in Dom Capers' new defensive scheme. Not only did Chillar replace Hawk in passing situations, but he spent the bulk of the St. Louis game playing safety in "Big Okie," a gadget defense used occasionally throughout the season. Plus, Chillar is a core player on special teams.

Bishop is the man of mystery — a preseason Hall of Famer and regular season nonfactor on defense. Outside of the late-season 1-5 "Psycho" package, Bishop almost never played on defense. He did register a career-high and team-high 22 tackles on special teams.

What's noteworthy is the contract situations. Chillar signed a four-year, $23 million contract extension in December, which will keep him in Green Bay through 2013. Barnett is locked up through 2012. Hawk, however, is due a base salary of $4.124 million in 2010 and $10 million in 2011. Bishop is in the final year of his contract.

Thus, Joseph might be much more than an afterthought as a developmental prospect. He was a three-year starter at Temple and a third-team all-MAC choice as a junior and senior.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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