Insider linebacker reminds me of what tight end was last year, a group with lots of bodies and a fair bit of talent...but a lot to prove at the same time. Last year the Packer ILB's Had an up and down year. On one hand Desmond Bishop took another step in quietly becoming one of the better ILB's in the league. D.J. Smith also flashed some playmaking ability in his limited starts. On the other hand, A.J. Hawk had a down year and did not contribute much at all struggling in coverage and tackling. I'm not a Hawk hater, but he's got to step up his game from last year if this defense is going to improve and show more of what he did in 2010 rather than his performance in 2011 if he wants to hold off his competition.
Starters - A.J. Hawk, Desmond Bishop
Backups - D.J. Smith, Terrell Manning
Confidence in starters - Above average: Bishop is pretty darn good. If he can put together a 16 game season as a starter and play the way he has the last two years he may contend for a pro bowl spot. Hawk is the reason why this is not a high confidence rating. He is very nice and solid, but not dynamic. Worse yet, he had a down year last year where he was missing tackles and making even fewer plays. If this becomes a trend he may lose his job to D.J. Smith (yes, I know he's not technically listed as Hawk's backup but Smith is the next in line if Hawk can't perform no matter who is listed as the "Mike" "Will" or "Buck").
Confidence in backups - High: Depth has not really been a problem at the ILB spot for a few years despite some injury concerns, and this year should be no different. Smith looked promising in limited duty as a rookie and should continue to improve. Manning is a late round rookie with solid tackling skills and blitzing ability. Each should provide competition to keep Hawk and Bishop on their toes as well as step in should the need arises.
Confidence in depth - Above average: The move of Jones and Lattimore is interesting. Each bring some extra size to the position. Jones has typically done well against the run and okay in coverage, so the transition makes sense. Lattimore didn't get on the field much for the defense but was a regular special teams contributor. Francois is a fantastic back up who may surprise people by keeping a roster spot despite the heavy competition.
Final Grade - B minus: Bishop is probably the only dynamic player out of the group. Smith may turn into that, but really is probably a year or two away from that happening. Hawk is what he is at this point in his career and needs to show he even belongs in the long term plan of the team with a solid bounce back year. This group should improve but don't expect it to become a strength of the defense.
Previous Pre-Training Camp Grades