Packers' 2014 Roster Preview: Returning Inside Linebackers

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

We break down the inside linebackers who are back in Green Bay for another year.

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.

After both Ryan Shazier and C.J. Mosley were off the board in the first round of this year's draft, the Packers decided not to address the inside linebacker position through the draft. To many fans, including myself, this was a mistake. The organization has been exposed for a lack of depth at key positions such as quarterback and safety in seasons past, and this year might be the year the team is exposed at inside linebacker. Luckily, A.J. Hawk has been able to avoid the injury bug throughout his career, but Brad Jones played the majority of 2013 with nagging lower body injuries. If either goes down with an injury, the team will be counting on an undrafted free agent or a seventh-round pick to start at a key position on defense.

#50 A.J. Hawk

6'1, 235 pounds
How Acquired: First-round selection in 2006 draft (Ohio State)

2014 Contract Terms (Signed through 2015)

Base salary: $2.45 million
Roster Bonus: $800,000
Workout Bonus: $250,000
Total compensation: $3.5 million
Salary cap number: $5.1 million

Hawk finished with 118 tackles, five sacks, and one interception in 2013. He was under consideration for defensive MVP in the first half of the season, but had a lackluster finish to an otherwise promising start. Injuries to the linebacker group left Hawk playing along side the likes of inexperienced players like Andy Mulumba, Nate Palmer, and Jamari Lattimore, so it's hard to be too critical of the veteran inside backer (although I have been for most of his career).

Hawk has been a consistent contributor to the defense in his eight-year career, but has never really turned into the difference maker that the organization thought they draft fifth overall in the 2005 draft. Hawk isn't as athletic or physically dominating as a Patrick Willis, but what he lacks physically he more than makes up for as a student of the game.  It would be crazy to expect Hawk to be anything other than what he has been in the past eight seasons: a reliable contributor in the middle of the defense who is solid in run support but mediocre in pass coverage. I expect another 100+ tackle season, and hopefully less blown pass coverage assignments in 2014 if the defense line can create a pass rush.

#59 Brad Jones

6'3, 242 pounds
How Acquired:Seventh-round selection in 2009 (Colorado)

2014 Contract Terms (Signed through 2015)

Base salary: $2.5 million
Roster bonus: $225,000
Workout bonus: $200,000
Total compensation: $2.925 million
Salary cap number: $3.925 million

Jones had a difficult time staying on the field in 2013, but still managed to record 83 tackles and three sacks in 12 games. Jones might be the best coverage linebacker on the team, he but often takes bad angles in run support and doesn't shed blocks well against stronger interior linemen.

My biggest lament on Jones is that I'm not sure inside linebacker is a natural position for him. He has shown progress since moving inside, but he still lacks the natural instincts and awareness to stuff a run play before it gets started. More often than not, Jones is tackling players after the ball carrier has broken through the line of scrimmage. However, I believe Jones may have been less of aggressive due to injuries and a full bill of health may be all he needs to have a bounce back season in 2014.

#57 Jamari Lattimore

6'2, 229 pounds
How Acquired: Undrafted Free Agent in 2011 (Middle Tennessee State)

2014 Contract Terms (signed Restricted Free Agent Tender)

Base salary: $1.431 million

Lattimore recorded 34 tackles, including two sacks, in 15 games last season. Lattimore started four games in place of an injured Brad Jones last season, and seemed to hold his own, especially against the run. This is particularly impressive considering how bad the defensive line was against the run in the second half of the season. I have a hard time seeing Lattimore starting over Jones this season, but Jones does not have that position locked up by any means.

#58 Sam Barrington

6'1, 240 pounds
How Acquired: Seventh-round selection in 2013

2014 Contract Terms (Signed through 2016)

Base salary: $495,000
Salary cap number: $507,250

Barrington did enough during training camp and preseason to beat out 2012 fifth-round selection Terrell Manning when the team had to make the final cut to 53. Barrington only recorded two tackles in special teams action before being put on injuried reserve halfway through the season. Barrington will have more reps to prove himself on defense this year but as we all learned with Terrell Manning, the organization isn't afraid of letting talent go if they don't show progress in year two of their development.

Josh VanDyke covers the Green Bay Packers for Acme Packing Company. He is also currently a sports writer for MLive.com.
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