ARLINGTON TX - FEBRUARY 06: Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers is sacked by Frank Zombo #58 of the Green Bay Packers during Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium on February 6 2011 in Arlington Texas. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
When the Packers made the switch to a 3-4 defense in 2009 the main question was who was going to play the OLB position. The answer came by moving Aaron Kampman (the team was hoping he could be another DeMarcus Ware type LB). The Packers also knew that a pair of pass rushing LB's is needed for the defense to really perform well and so the dramatic trade up to get Clay Matthews was put together too. Kampman didn't work out, but Matthews did. Since then the Packers have basically neglected the position; putting a steady stream of street free agents low round rookies, and undrafted rookies at the crucial spot opposite Matthews.
All that changes this year though....
Starters - Clay Matthews, Nick Perry
Confidence in starters - High: If this was just the Claymaker I would put very high, but Perry is along for the ride here as well. There are going to be questions about Perry's ability to transition from hand in the ground pass rushing to reading the offense and attacking the QB in a two point stance. There is also going to be questions about his ability to cover. It should work out, but it may take time. The good news is that even with these questions Perry is a clear upgrade over what the Packers have put on the field there for the last two to three years (depending on how much you like the idea of Kampy back there).
Confidence in backups - Above Average: Walden isn't bad by any means, the problem is that he's probably not a starting quality OLB in this league. He'll be fine with depth and rotation though. He will be adequate insurance if Perry doesn't work out. Moses has turned heads so far and had a knack for getting to the QB in college. He may be a nice rotational guy as well.
Confidence in depth - High: I may be a sucker here, but So'oto might actually contribute this year. It takes guys a year or two to transition to the OLB position, especially the cover responsibilities. If he can be better there then he should be pretty good depth for what was once a weak group. Zombo is all around solid, but he can't stay healthy. Jones and Lattimore are making the move to ILB this year but should be able to fill in should the need arises. Manning is also pegged as depth at ILB but there are some that think he could contribute on the outside as well.
Final Grade - B: This leaps up to the low A range if Perry develops quicker than expected, but right now all I want out of Perry is to not look lost out there and take pressure off Matthews. Next year should be when they can be twin terrors for QB's. I would push this up to high B range if the depth takes a step forward this year. That means So'oto is good enough in coverage to get real playing time or Moses looks as good in pads as he did in OTA's. No matter how you slice it this position group has improved and that's good news for Dom Capers and this defense.