As has become tradition over the past week and a half, we kick off a look at another position grouping on the Green Bay Packers' 90-man roster with a detailed look at the players currently signed to the team. Today's assignment is for me to break down the outside linebackers, of which the Packers currently have seven. Let's get down to business.
Locks to Start
You know the two players with starting jobs. Clay Matthews has averaged over 11 sacks per season over his first four years in the NFL and has been one of the best outside linebackers (and one of the top pass-rushers at any position) over that span. Some people like to throw out the argument that he's injury-prone and unreliable to play a full season, but he has missed exactly six games over the past three seasons (four in 2012 with his hamstring injury). He has developed a remarkably solid all-around game, contributing solidly in the pass rush, run defense, and coverage.
Perry, the 2012 first-round pick and another USC product, will have the job on the left side to no one's surprise. His rookie season started out with a thud, earning a clunker grade of -5.7 from Pro Football Focus against the 49ers while playing every defensive snap. But once he began to rotate in and out of the lineup in the following weeks, Perry was solid both rushing the passer and defending the run before a wrist injury sent him to injured reserve. The prospect of a high snap count can give some Packers fans cause for concern, but Mike McCarthy and company expect a great deal from their second-year players and Perry is no exception.
With the two players listed above entrenched as the starters going into 2013, there are no other players who will have a legitimate opportunity to earn starters' reps.
Out of the Running
Dezman Moses, Nate Palmer, Andy Mulumba, Donte Savage, Jarvis Reed
Moses played his way onto the roster as an undrafted free agent in 2012 in a way that previous camp wonders like Vic So'oto could not. He is not a finished product, nor is he a starting-caliber player yet; however, he showed enough sparks of talent and athleticism that Packers fans should look forward to what he can do in a backup role with another full off-season under his belt.
Palmer was a surprise pick out of Illinois State in the sixth round, and he fits the physical mold of the Packers' outside linebackers perfectly at 6'2" and 250 pounds. Backup jobs are there for the taking, and Palmer has the best chance of any of the rookies to snag one with a good training camp and preseason performance. His productive days as a defensive end in FCS football will be put to the test with a position switch to linebacker.
The first of the undrafted rookies to be signed this off-season was Mulumba out of Eastern Michigan, whose 6'3" and 260-pound frame makes him the largest linebacker on the roster. Like Palmer, he played well at defensive end against lesser competition, but he passed up on a spot in the Canadian Football League (as a top-5 pick) to sign with Green Bay.
Savage, a New Mexico State product, will also be moving from end, where he was the leading pass rusher for the Aggies a year ago. He's a bit of an unknown product, but with a 4.80 40 time he will need to rely more on agility and quickness than pure speed off the edge.
Reed's best year came as a junior with seven sacks against lesser competition in the NCAA's FCS grouping before recording only a half-sack in 2012 as a senior. He'll have an uphill battle to climb, with several players drafted or signed before him, but the Packers are taking a chance on the rookie's potential and athletic ability.
We'll be along a little later this afternoon with the final roster predictions for this grouping of players. Until then, you can look back at all the other roster predictions here with our full training camp preview schedule.
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