The inside linebacker position for the Green Bay Packers has just gotten interesting. Green Bay released inside linebacker Desmond Bishop today. This has come as a bit of a surprise considering Bishop was an integral part of the defense before he suffered his injury in the preseason opener last year.
Bishop has repeatedly stated that he is “100%” and ready to compete this offseason, but he has sat out OTAs with other lingering injuries. There is still question he would ever return to his pre-2012 form. It has also been reported that the Packers were trying to restructure Bishop’s $3.46 base salary, but the two sides could not come to terms.
Who can blame the Packers for trying to restructure Bishop’s salary, considering he’s coming off a major injury and did not play at all in 2012. The Packers also resigned ascending inside linebacker Brad Jones to a starter’s salary ($4.2 million) this offseason. That would mean Green Bay would have been paying three inside linebackers a starter’s salary if they retained Bishop at his current salary.
Even though there were reports this offseason that the Packers were looking to trade Bishop, I am still a bit surprised Bishop and the Packers front office couldn’t come to an agreement. Bishop’s release shows that Green Bay is ready to move on with Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk as the starting inside linebackers and must like what they have with the other young players at the position.
Bishop’s departure leaves a playmaking void in the middle of the defense. The Packers will rely on young talent to step up and provide the physical presence Bishop brought to the field on a consistent basis.
Now with Bishop and D.J. Smith gone this offseason, let’s see how the position pans out heading into the 2013 season.
Inside Linebacker (6)
With Bishop’s release, it’s clear Jones and Hawk will be the starting inside linebackers for the Green Bay defense in 2013.
Hawk has been Mr. Reliable the past few seasons for the Packers, rarely missing any time due to injury. Hawk is consistent and a solid starter for the Packers. He won’t make a lot of the splashy plays fans may like, but he provides good leadership on the defense and plays well against the run.
Hawk has finished in the top two on the team in tackles every season since he was drafted by Green Bay in 2006, and put up another solid performance in 2012 with 120 tackles and 3 sacks. Hawk can be a liability in pass coverage, so look for Jones to be the lone linebacker in dime packages and passing situations. He will continue to be a leader on the defense and bring much-needed experience to a position group that is filled with youth.
Jones began his career at outside linebacker in 2009, but his inconsistent play at the position encouraged coaches to move him to inside linebacker last season. Jones flew under the radar for the first half of the 2012 season, making his mark on special teams. However, when D.J. Smith went down in week six against the Houston Texans, Jones stepped up and solidified himself as the starting inside linebacker for the remainder of the season.
Jones was arguably the Packers most improved defensive player last season. He finished third on the team in tackles, with 77, and recorded 2 sacks and 4 passes defensed. Jones is athletic and quick on his feet and was the Packers best linebacker in pass coverage last season. Jones’ emergence in 2012 gave the Packers the confidence to release both Smith and Bishop, so let’s hope Jones’ improved play will continue in 2013. The Packers defense may just be relying on it.
Francois, Manning, and Lattimore will provide depth at inside linebacker. Francois is a reliable veteran and important cog on special teams coverage units. Francois played well in the few games he started in 2011, but he nearly disappeared on defense last season. Francois entered the 2013 offseason as a free agent, but the Packers re-signed him for another season. Maybe Green Bay has an expanded role in mind for the veteran linebacker. He will be fighting for a roster spot with the younger players, but his experience may give him the edge.
The Packers seem to be really high on Manning. Green Bay drafted him in the fifth round last season, but they didn’t get a fair chance at seeing what he offers because of a stomach virus he suffered in training camp. The Packers kept him on the roster based on his potential, and it seems this move could pay off. Manning was a big time playmaker in college.
In his two years starting for North Carolina State, he recorded 207 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 5 interceptions, 5 forced fumbles, and 5 fumble recoveries. It is easy to see why Green Bay liked this guy coming out of college. Now it’s time for Manning to show the team what he can really do. Manning could prove to be the Packers top backup inside linebacker heading into the 2013 season.
Lattimore is a versatile player who has experience playing each linebacker position on the Packers roster. He joined Green Bay in 2011 as an undrafted free agent, and has been one of the Packers’ best special teams players since arriving. Lattimore brings a lot of energy to the position and his versatility and special teams expertise makes him a strong candidate for a roster spot this season.
Long Shot – Sam Barrington, 6-1, 235 pounds
Barrington is the rookie of the group and has a long way to go to beat out the other linebackers and make the final roster. Barrington was drafted in the sixth round in this year’s draft, and was a key player to the South Florida defense as a senior.
Barrington could be a surprise rookie this season that rises up the depth chart during training camp, but considering the other young talent at the position, Barrington will most likely remain at the bottom of the depth chart at the position. His best chance at making the team in 2013 will most likely be on the practice squad. Look for Barrington to be a developmental player.
Last year the Packers kept six inside linebackers on their final roster (Hawk, Smith, Jones, Francois, Lattimore, Manning) and placed one on injured reserve (Bishop). I expect them to keep a similar number this season. My early predictions are that the Packers start Jones and Hawk with Francois, Manning, and Lattimore providing depth and being key special teams contributors. I expect Barrington to be a practice squad candidate.
Bishop’s loss will be a tough pill to swallow for many Packer fans, but the young potential at the position should give us hope that another impact player will emerge at the position.