To prepare for training camp, we will be breaking down every player on the Green Bay Packers' 90-man roster in more detail, looking at contract terms and 2013 statistics, before we make our prediction for which players will make the 53-man roster at the end of training camp.
As exciting as the outside linebacker news has been this offseason, the inside linebacker position has been equally boring. No draft additions, no veteran free agents; just a few new longshot undrafted free agents to fight for a practice squad position. The writers at APC have voted, and we have come up with our projected rotation at inside linebacker heading into the 2014 season.
Projected Starters: A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones
This was a no-brainer for the most part. With no new veteran additions, the only possible scenario to change would be Jamari Lattimore starting over Brad Jones, and even that seems unlikely. I expect A.J. Hawk to play more like he did in the first half of the 2013 season than his disappointing second half of the year. If he starts all 16 games, I would pencil him in for 100+ tackles. If Brad Jones can stay healthy, I expect him to have a bounce back year in 2014, and hopefully provide some better pass coverage to a unit that has been exposed by athletic tight ends in recent years.
Projected Back-Ups: Jamari Lattimore, Sam Barrington
Lattimore will likely get more playing time than Barrington, and if Brad Jones falters, Lattimore would have a legitimate shot at starting over the injury-prone veteran. Lattimore started four games in the second half of the season, and could be a key contributor on defense if he can shore up some of the mistakes he made last season.
Barrington will likely be a special teams contributor who occasionally gets some reps on defense. He will need to stay healthy in order to keep a spot on the active roster, because the team has shown it will not hesitate to cut a draft selection over an undrafted free agent who can contribute right away. Barrington showed some promise on special teams last year before being placed on injured reserve. He will need to take advantage of every opportunity he gets because there will not be many on defense.
Practice Squad: Joe Thomas
Personally, I like Jake Doughty a little more than Joe Thomas in terms of being a contributor in 2014, but I can't argue with the idea of placing Thomas on the practice squad, giving him a year to learn the scheme, and letting him loose in 2015. Thomas is a heavy-hitting, physical run stuffer on the inside, and has the potential to be the next undrafted free agent steal that Packers have become accustomed to at the linebacker position.
Cut: Jake Doughty, Shaun Lewis
Jake Doughty and Shaun Lewis are both undersized for the inside linebacker position, and would have to make a lot of plays during training camp and preseason to be considered for a practice squad assignment. While I think Doughty has a legit chance of beating out Thomas for the practice squad spot, I think Lewis is already behind the 8-ball considering he is the smallest of the three, and he isn't a natural inside linebacker.