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

Green Bay Packers: Right up the middle

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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Tags: Green Bay Packers

  • Troy Hawley

    I suppose, when you can’t find any weaknesses in a team, you “invent” some.
    The Packers are fine!
    When you employ two Really Great pass rushers (Peppers and Matthews), And use them on the outside edges, that takes away pressure from your middle. It “frees” them up to be more effective.
    Besides, there’s a little know fact that the Packers brought in some pretty good undrafted agents (whom should’ve been drafted but “slipped” through the crack).
    There’s No problem at inside linebacker.
    So, relax And Stop “digging”.

    • SonsofLombardi

      Dude, BRAD JONES is one of our starting ILBs. This isn’t an invented crisis, it’s a quite valid one.

  • Dion Ferguson

    The packers picked up an outside linebacker in the draft and were talking about making him an inside linebacker. So no not worried.

    • SonsofLombardi

      All the draft experts were talking about moving Bradford inside. The Packers have repeatedly said he’s staying at OLB. We’ll see if they mean it or not when training camp starts.

      • Peter Maiz

        I think he was recruited because he could get to the quarterback. I’m still wondering about a sound solution at ILB. Mosley would have solved that problem.

  • Mike Brand

    im one of the one that thinks hawk plays the spot well he is always in place . i have never been a fan of jones at ilb i think last year his biggest problems were when he played that is was he never stayed in place he was to busy chasing down wrs . i think it had a lot to do with where he was use to playing as opposed to the spot he was playing. if hubbard pushes perry which i think he will we can move perry or any of the other olb guys that have been trying to play the other side of matthews to the ilb spot. i also think we are forgetting sam barrington who had great flashes with what little time he had before his injury . add mulamba that can be put inside as well as palmer and now bradford i think the inside is better shape than it has been in years with so many guys that can play it if needed

    • SonsofLombardi

      You are right that there is depth there, but let’s be honest with ourselves– all the backup ILBs you list are scrap heap players who were either late rounders or undrafted free agents. I too have hope for Bradford but don’t you think it’s a bad indication that so many fans are essentially COUNTING on him to step into a starting role? How many other teams are expecting a mid-round pick to step in and start at LB? (And he’s a tweener at that.)

      This is scrap pile approach is the same thing we did last year with the safety position opposite Burnett. I hope we don’t have similar results at ILB this season.

  • Dhani

    Carl Bradford ( drafted as an OLB) will be the starting ILB next to Hawk by week 5 or 6, book it. He is aggressive, fast and a tackling machine.

    • Jimmy Ryan

      It might be a smoke screen by McCarthy, but he made it clear that Bradford would play outside. Maybe it’s his way of a vote of confidence for Hawk and Jones. Bradford said he could pay inside and maybe he will. I just remember after the draft, MM was clear Bradford would be used outside. What has me wondering is Nick Perry, what is this injury that’s keeping him out? He played on that foot right through the playoffs, so is that it? Those 2 games before he was hurt against Detroit and Baltimore he started playing really well. 3 sacks, 2 FF in his last 6 quarters of play. Then Bam, a broken bone in his foot. If Jones can play to his 2012 level, Josh Boyd and Datone Jones make that year 2 jump MM always talks about, Raji actually plays defense, and Thornton shows folks why he was blazing UP draft boards, the Packers might just be good enough.

  • Adrian Meli

    Well, let’s give them a few games this year with Peppers plus Mathews and see where we are. I am pretty excited to see the new defense!

  • Jeff

    I agree with Dhani to a extent not only will Bradford Play ILB he will take over Hawks job by the end of the year… Hawk is and always will be the weak link in our middle!!! I know everyone is going to say he was leading in tackles ..Blah..Blah..Blah the last year..well I am sorry to inform ya all of this but he misses more than he makes so whats that tell ya? Now your going to say he is always on the field and reliable! I agree but why have a man on the field that is a mediocre Mlb at best when we can have one that will KILL in the middle? (Like I believe Bradford will prove he is the man for the job) Ok I said it now lets hear all the Hawk lovers rant and rave about how I am wrong an why should they replace a 9 year vet with a rookie? This is my opinion and I will stick to it…I am NOT a Hawk HATER but I am a fan with EYE’s and I see Hawk as a weak MLB plain and simple always has been always will be!!!!!

    • Boompa2

      Jeff-I agree. Yes, he led in tackles last year, but his average per game went from about 11 to around 6 per game the last 6 or 7 games. Was he getting worn out? We need someone with “Fire in the Eyes”, so to speak. He hardly changes expression. I would like to know what the average gain per tackle, if that is a stat that can be captured, because it seems to me the gain was always around 6+ yards. I do think he’s great at positioning the defense, good leadership, being in the right spot, but doesn’t have the speed or fire needed to make the impact plays…just my opinion.

  • Michael Castelaz

    How about looking at how well GB’s defense played before the injuries and inability of the offense to possess the ball. I think this year we’re deeper on D and the offense will spend more time on the field. Those two things will be a recipe for success.

  • Peter Maiz

    I believe Ray Rivard is absolutely right. I can’t figure Thompson on this issue. The importance of limiting the running game is paramount and that takes talent at middle linebacker. I understand that hot talent like Mosley or Shazier disappeared quickly but this was an area of need and ILB would have been sweet instead of the cornerback we recruited in the draft. Let’s just hope they can develop one of the ufa’s to round out the team. We can’t have the likes of Peterson or Forte running all over us. Believe me, the NFC North is going to be more competitive 2014 than in the past.