2017 Packers Preview: ILBs Unchanged and Unspectacular
When we say the inside linebackers are “unspectacular,” that sounds like an insult, but it isn’t. Trust me.
Unspectacular is fine for 3-4 inside linebackers in Green Bay, where they mainly exist to chase down running backs and occasionally cover tight ends. The Packers operate out of sub packages so often that it’s a rare game where two inside linebackers are regularly on the field together.
The Packers have invested so little in the inside linebacker position that it’s clear they’ve given players in that group one simple goal: don’t screw it up.
Unfortunately, an underwhelming inside linebacker group has screwed up in the not too distant past. Though the Packers don’t ask for much from their inside linebackers, they could still stand to get a little bit more. Unspectacular performances might just be enough.
Veteran to watch: Joe Thomas
The Packers have tried to give away Joe Thomas’s job before. He was previously released in Green Bay only to return after a stint on the practice squad in Dallas, then fended newcomer Blake Martinez and returning former starter Sam Barrington to win the top inside linebacker job last year.
Now, Thomas faces threats from safeties as well as fellow linebackers. He’ll have to prove himself yet again in 2017, but it’s far from an unfamiliar position.
Notable newcomer: Nobody
Ted Thompson broke a two year streak this spring when he declined to select another inside linebacker, which was not terribly surprising if frustrating for some fans who saw the inside linebacker group as undermanned. The Packers will ride with largely the same group as the last two seasons, relying on veteran players and hybrids from other position groups to man this position.
Yes, the team did add some undrafted free agents, but it's hard to call any one of them notable until we see if they can play at the NFL level.
Biggest question: How much of a role will inside linebackers play this season?
Unlike tight ends, this isn’t so much a question of how the Packers will use their linebackers, it’s how much. Mike McCarthy repeats frequently his mantra that the NFL is a sub group game, and that usually involves bringing at least one inside linebacker off the field. With the nickel package taking up most of the Packers’ reps, it’s worth wondering whether the two ILB look is almost a permanent thing of the past.
Key number: 4
Joe Thomas played 100% of the defensive snaps in four regular season games last year. No other inside linebacker played 100% of the defensive snaps in any game.