With a total of 30 inactive players for their preseason opener, the Green Bay Packers coaches got a good look at plenty of players in true game action, which is difficult to replicate in practice.
One of the players who stood out in particular was fourth-year linebacker Oren Burks. While De’Vondre Campbell and Kamal Martin looked on from the sideline, it was Burks who got the lion’s share of snaps at linebacker, and made the most out of them.
Burks finished the game with six tackles, two TFLs and a sack, along with a few hurries on Texans rookie QB Davis Mills. The only major negative play from Burks was a roughing the passer penalty in the second quarter.
It was Burks’ blitzes in particular that popped off the screen. Joe Barry has emphasized his guys playing fast on defense. He sent Burks after the QB a ton of times, and from a variety of alignments.
Burks looked much more instinctive than his usual self, jumping the snap count to perfection on blitzes on several occasions. He looked confident and willing to trust his instincts. I also liked how he performed in the run game.
An elite athlete at the position, Burks has struggled to convert that raw explosiveness we saw at the combine into production on the field through three years of his career. That wasn’t the case last night.
After the game, Burks said “The focus for me this offseason has been trusting my training and believing what I see and playing fast. I felt like that came to fruition in this game.”
Last year, it looked as though the Oren Burks experiment may have come to an end. He couldn’t make it work at inside linebacker in his first couple of seasons, and a trial run at outside linebacker last year didn’t stick either.
Had the Packers prioritized linebacker higher in the draft, there would’ve been discussion of Burks not making it onto the final roster this offseason. In a similar position, Josh Jackson was drafted to the Packers on the same day as Burks, and he too has disappointed in his first three years.
In Jackson’s case, the Packers did prioritize his position this offseason, and after a terrible performance last night, the 25-year-old CB could be shown the door before the preseason is done.
While for Burks, his place on the 53-man roster may now be safe for another year. Last night greatly helped his case to crawl up the linebacker depth chart and possibly even have the number two role alongside Krys Barnes this season.
While it’s only preseason, if anything this game could serve as the confidence booster Burks needs in order take a step towards becoming a capable starter in the NFL going forward.