Brad Jones must be injury-free in 2014. Raymond T. Rivard

Green Bay Packers: Right up the middle

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The Green Bay Packers need to take a look at the Milwaukee Brewers – and they need to emulate what their state professional sister team has done over the past couple of seasons.

You see, like baseball, successful football teams are strong up the middle – whether it’s their offense or defense.

Starting with catcher Jonathan Lucroy, a strong pitching staff, shortstop Jean Segura and second baseman Scooter Gennett and right on through center fielder Carlos Gomez, the Brewers have solidified the middle of their defense.

The Packers need to take note.

Everyone has gone ga-ga over the additions the Packers have made this offseason. The addition of Julius Peppers, the re-signing of Sam Shields and James Starks and the addition of some solid receivers have improved this team tremendously.

However, we are all still scratching our heads about the Packers’ neglect of the inside linebacking position.

However, we are all still scratching our heads about the Packers’ neglect of the inside linebacking position. We hoped Ted Thompson would look for players through the draft to take care of the depth up the middle. And while he did take steps to improve the back end of the defense with the drafting of Ha Ha Clinton Dix, we are all still worried about inside linebacker

Could the ILB situation of 2014 turn into the safety situation of 2013? We all thought that TT might draft a safety last year. He didn’t and the team paid dearly for that neglect.

The same could be said about this offseason and the team’s neglect in adding depth to the ILB position.

A.J. Hawk Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports photograph

A.J. Hawk
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports photograph

Yes, the Packers still have Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk – last year’s starters. While Hawk has been steady and injury-free, he has been far from spectacular.

On the other hand, the oft-injured Jones gave way to Jamari Lattimore for much of last season. Lattimore showed flashes of talent and playmaking abilities when he was on the field, but we wonder from where the depth will come.

And what if Hawk goes down or just doesn’t live up to expectations? Then what?

The Packers did sign Joe Thomas out of South Carolina and Jake Doughty out of Utah State as undrafted free agents. We’ve seen undrafted free agent linebackers step in for the Packers before. Our hope is that these guys might provide at least part of the answer to an improved defense.

Coach Mike McCarthy has stepped out on the ledge and said the Packers’ defense is going to be improved this year. We trust his judgment and understand that this team must improve in defensive production to get beyond the first round of the playoffs … heck, they need to improve to win the NFC North Division once again.

So, if there’s an Achilles heel on this Packers team, it’s right up the middle. The re-signing of B.J. Raji to a single-season “prove-it” contract has added some bulk and experience to the middle of the defensive line, and the addition of Clinton-Dix should bring some stability to safety, but when you look at the state of the team up the middle, many question marks are raised.

At this point, we can only hope that Dom Capers can put together a defensive package with the right people in place up the middle of that defense. While the Packers are strong on the outside, success always comes from the inside out.

As always, we defer to the expertise of the coaching and administrative staffs of the Packers. Every team has holes; it appears the Packers will have to find ways to fill theirs up the middle.

It will be one of the challenges of training camp.

Stay tuned …

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