How Should the Packers Solve Jake Ryan and Kentrell Brice's Injuries?
There’s still a lot we don’t know about the injuries to Jake Ryan and Kentrell Brice, but both figure to miss a lot of time after leaving the practice field on carts on Monday. In all likelihood, both could miss the entire season.
Though neither is a star, per se, both figured to be starters or at least significant contributors this season. Losing either one would be significant. Losing both on one day is a serious blow.
These injuries represent the first major in-season challenge for new general manager Brian Gutekunst. The offseason offers plenty of time to tinker with a roster, tweaking a position here and there in the lead up to camp. But now that the season is underway, Gutekunst will have to react quickly to shore up his roster. The solutions to the sudden gaps at linebacker and safety, however, are very different.
Packers should promote from within to fix linebackers
The value of an inside linebacker has changed drastically over the last few seasons and players like Ryan, frankly, are rather outdated. With defenses lining up in nickel more and more, the need for a run stopping “thumper” has dwindled, even in a 3-4.
To replace Ryan, a strong if slow run-oriented linebacker, the Packers don’t need to look any further than their own roster. 2018 third-round pick Oren Burks, whose athleticism vastly outstrips Ryan’s, is a near-ideal solution. He provides the coverage ability and versatility that Ryan lacked, and with Blake Martinez still on the roster, he won’t have to take on a big role.
Even beyond Burks, the Packers are chock full of the smaller, more athletic linebackers common to today’s game. Ahmad Thomas and Marcus Porter, though both inexperienced, have the athletic ability to at least offer depth. Even Greer Martini, more in the mold of Ryan, could be an option.
Should Gutekunst so desire, there is help available in the free agent pool. Navorro Bowman was a solid contributor for the Oakland Raiders last year and is still just 30. He wouldn’t be the athletic coverage linebacker someone like Burks could be, but he’d be assignment sure and reliable. But before considering anyone not already on the roster, the Packers should look within for linebacker help.
Safety help needs to come from outside
Safety is a different story. Though this position has also dwindled in value some, the Packers are not exactly brimming with options. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is an inconsistent mystery and Josh Jones is athletic but unreliable. Outside of Brice, the only other safeties on the roster with any meaningful experience are Jermaine Whitehead and Marwin Evans.
Whitehead is fine and I’m as big a fan of Evans as you’re likely to find, but neither one are the sort of player you’d prefer to give significant snaps if you had any other option. Fortunately, the Packers do.
Free agent safeties are easy to find. Eric Reid, Kenny Vaccaro, Mike Mitchell, and T.J. Ward all started in 2017, and each could more than adequately play the sort of in the box role the Packers have liked opposite of Clinton-Dix.
Of that list, Reid is the cream of the crop, and you should forget any concerns about his National Anthem protests. If the Packers aren’t a strong enough organization to overcome one player speaking out about what he perceives as a grave injustice in the world, they should probably just pack it in and go home. Besides, if he makes plays on the field (and compared to the Packers other safeties, he wouldn’t have to do much), any off the field issues would be quickly forgotten.
Reid is a versatile, intelligent player who would be a great option for Mike Pettine, whose defenses have thrived with exactly that kind of player operating on the back end. The Packers can fix their safety situation with one phone call. They should.